prime minister



The EU’s policies toward Israel are “crazy” and self-defeating, Jerusalem had a “problem” with former US president Barack Obama, and the IDF has hit arms transfers to Hezbollah in Syria dozens of times, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told four European leaders in Budapest on Wednesday, during a closed meeting that was inadvertently caught by an open microphone.

“We have a peculiar situation: The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel – that produces technology in every area – on political conditions.

The only ones,” he said. “We have a special relationship with China and they don’t care about the political issues.”

The comments were made during what Netanyahu believed was a closed session with his counterparts – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Czech Republic Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico – but because of an open microphone were inadvertently broadcast to journalists in a nearby room.

Netanyahu referenced the recent visit to Israel of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that the Indian leader said he needed to take care of India’s interests.

“‘I need more water, clean water. Where will I get it? Ramallah?” Netanyahu quoted the Indian leader as saying.

He said only the EU was placing political conditions on upgrading its bilateral ties with Israel.

“I think it is crazy, I think it is actually crazy,” Netanyahu said. “I am not talking about my interests, Israel’s interests; I’m talking about Europe’s interests.”

He asked his counterparts to communicate to their colleagues the need to push forward the EU-Israel Association agreement that has been frozen since Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009. He said that Europe was undermining its own progress by “undermining its connection with Israeli innovation by a crazy attempt to create conditions.”

“Don’t undermine the one European Western country that defends European values and European interests, and prevents another mass migration to Europe – stop attacking Israel, start supporting Israel,” he said.

“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” he added. “I am not very politically correct.

I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth – both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future.

Both of these concerns mandate a different policy toward Israel.”

Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that beyond the “wow” factor of the comments from a private meeting being aired live, there was nothing substantially new in the remarks, and that the criticism Netanyahu leveled against the EU in what he thought was a private conversation was the same type he has articulated numerous times in the past, both publicly and privately.

The same could be said about his comments about Obama and IDF actions against arms deliveries to Hezbollah.

Regarding US Middle East policy, Netanyahu – in a clear reference to the former president with whom he had a famously fraught relationship – said, “We had a big problem.

It think it is different now. Vis-a-vis Iran, there is a stronger position. The US is more engaged in the region and conducting more bombings [in Syria]. It is a positive thing. I think we’re okay on ISIS. We’re not okay on Iran.”

As for the situation in Syria, Netanyahu said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin, “When we see them transferring weapons to Hezbollah, we will hurt them. We did it dozens of times.” That did not lead to a clash with Russia, he said.

Netanyahu and the other four leaders addressed the press after the meeting, with Netanyahu quipping that the press already had a rather full briefing.

The prime minister said that Israel serves a unique function as “the one Western country in the region, the one country that is able to limit and fight from the region, within the region,” the common danger of militant Islam.

He reiterated what he said in the closed meeting about the need for Europe to cooperate more closely with Israel.

“It’s time to have a reassessment in Europe about the relations with Israel,” he said.

“We have much to offer each other. We have much to offer in the realm of security, much to offer in the realm of technology.

This is not only good for us, but I believe good for you.”

He announced that the next meeting of the Visegrad Group – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – will be held in Jerusalem.

Orban reiterated “our acknowledgment toward Israel for what it does for the security of Europe,” and said if Europe does not cooperate with Israel, “it is punishing itself, which is pointless.”

Netanyahu held a bilateral meeting with Orban on Tuesday and met separately with each of the other three leaders on Wednesday. He is scheduled to return home on Thursday.


In meeting with Netanyahu, Hungary’s PM acknowledges ‘sin’ of WWll

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday acknowledged Hungary’s “sin” in not protecting the country’s Jews during World War II, seeking to quell a controversy over his recent praise for Hungary’s wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy.

Standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Hungarian leader also promised a “zero tolerance policy” toward anti-Semitism.

“We are aware of the fact that we have quite a difficult chapter of history behind us. And I wanted to make it very clear to him that the Government of Hungary, in a previous period, committed a mistake, even committed a sin, when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary,” Orban said. “I want to make it clear that it is our belief that every single Hungarian government has the obligation to protect and defend all of its citizens, regardless of their birth and origins.”

Hungary’s Nazi-allied regime instituted anti-Semitic laws modeled on Germany’s Nuremberg laws beginning in 1938. After German tanks rolled into Budapest in 1944, Nazi-installed Hungarian leaders ordered the mass deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the war, through deportation to death camps or in massacres on Hungarian soil.

Orban said Hungary failed to live up to its commitment to its citizens during World War II, “both morally or in other ways. And this is a sin, because we decided back then, instead of protecting the Jewish community, to collaborate with the Nazis. I made it very clear to the prime minister that this is something that can never, ever happen again, that the Hungarian government will in the future protect all its citizens.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) and PM Netanyahu at the Hungarian Parliament in Hungary, July 18, 2017 (GPO)

Hungarian officials later pointed out this was the first time Orban referred to Horthy’s actions as a “sin.”

MK Yair Lapid, who had urged Netanyahu’s to cancel his planned trip unless Orban’s apologizes, welcomed the Hungarian’s leader’s statement, but reiterated his outrage over Orban’s previous praise for Horthy.

“We must be clear: Hungary had a significant role in the Nazi extermination machine and was actively involved in the murder of Jews, in the murder of my family. That only heightens the severity of praising Miklos Horthy,” Lapid said. “The State of Israel is a strong and sovereign country and we must fight the increasing expressions of anti-Semitism in Europe which come from both the left and the right. When a prime minister in Europe says that an anti-Semite was ‘an exceptional statesman,’ we cannot be silent. That it is our moral responsibility to the millions who were murdered in the Holocaust.”

During the joint appearance with Netanyahu, Orban pointed out that a “sizable” Jewish minority lives in Hungary today. “I made it very clear to the prime minister that their security, being Hungarian citizens that they are, will be fully guaranteed by the Hungarian state, I’ve also made it very clear to the Prime Minister that the Hungarian government has a zero tolerance policy against all forms of anti-Semitism.”

Regent of Hungary Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya with Adolf Hitler, year unspecified (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

There is a renaissance of Jewish life here in Hungary, Orban added. “And this is something that we are proud of. We think that the renaissance of Jewish life is a substantial contribution to the common achievements of the Hungarian nation quite clearly.”

Orban praised Netanyahu as a “dedicated patriot,” adding that this is the key to his country’s success.

“There’s a lot for us to learn from Israel, ladies and gentlemen, because Israel teaches the world and us also that if you don’t fight for something, you will lose it,” he said. “Because nowadays, you have to fight for everything in the modern world.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) inspect an honor guard outside the Budapest Parliament, July 18, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Netanyahu said he raised with Orban “concerns” about his recent praise for Horthy and an anti-immigration billboard campaign, focused on Jewish billionaire George Soros, many Jews felt was anti-Semitic.

“He reassured me in unequivocal terms, just as he did now, publicly. I appreciate that. These are important words,” Netanyahu said.

An anti-Soros billboard with a swastika and Soros's name replaced by Viktor Orban's seen in Budapest on July 17, 2017. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

The prime minister also thanked his host for standing up for Israel in international forums. “You’ve done that time and again. We appreciate this stance, not only because it’s standing with Israel, but it’s also standing with the truth.”

Budapest is at “the forefront of the states that are opposed to this anti-Jewish policy, and I welcome it,” the Netanyahu added.

Speaking in English after Orban, Netanyahu hailed Hungary as the birthplace of modern Zionism.

“When I come to Hungary, the first thing I think about, before anything else, is that Hungary was the, in many ways, the birth of modern Zionism, the movement that led to the establishment of the modern Jewish state because in Hungary was born our modern Moses, Theodor Herzl,” he said.

“It is probably inconceivable to think of the Jewish state, the State of Israel today, if it weren’t for that man born here in 1860, who envisioned the rebirth of the Jewish state and who saw in his mind’s-eye also the great challenges that would be posed anti-Semitism. He thought that this ultimately was the best solution for the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said, adding that he planned to visit the site where Herzl’s house once stood.

Before their statements, Netanyahu and Orban witnessed the signing of a bilateral culture agreement and declarations of intent regarding cooperation in innovation and technology. The culture agreement will enable reciprocal financing of cultural appearances, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Dozens of Israeli shows take place annually in Hungary via the existing culture agreement and dozens more will be added, thanks to the new one, thus allowing additional artists and directors – inter alia – to go to Hungary and expose Hungarian audiences to Israeli culture,” the PMO said.

The innovation and technology agreement is intended to increase cooperation between the Israel Innovation Authority and its Hungarian counterparts to promote Israeli-Hungarian startups. “The goal of the agreement is to promote cooperation between the governments including in the private sector with emphasis on high-tech, autonomous vehicles and new technologies,” according to the PMO.

Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu and his wife Sara were welcomed by Orban and his wife Aniko Levai at the steps of the Parliament in Hungary, where they reviewed a military honor guard. The Netanyahus toured the parliament, which houses the Holy Crown of Hungary, which has been used by kings since the twelfth century.

On Monday afternoon, Netanyahu was met Hungarian President Janos Ader in the presidential palace. He concluded the day with a dinner with Orban at the prime minister’s residence.

On Tuesday, he will meet the leaders of the Visegrad Group, a political alliance of four Central European countries: Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. He will also hold individual working meetings with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Later in the day, Netanyahu and Orban will attend an economic forum attended by dozens of Israeli companies and more than 100 Hungarian companies from the cyber, high-tech, agriculture, pharmaceutical and technology sectors.

On Wednesday, the two prime ministers will visit the Dohany Street Synagogue and meet with Jewish community leaders. Relations between the local Jewish community and Israel have been tense over recent controversies surrounding Netanyahu’s apparent refusal to confront Orban over moves perceived as promoting anti-Semitism in the country.

PM opposes Syria ceasefire, says it will strengthen Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he opposes the deal brokered by the United States and Russia that led to an open-ended ceasefire in southern Syria, saying it does not sufficiently address Iranian military ambitions in the area.

Placing himself at odds with US President Donald Trump on the issue, Netanyahu told journalists in Paris that the agreement perpetuates Iranian plans to set up a disruptive long-term presence on Israel’s northern border, something he has repeatedly vowed that the Jewish state won’t tolerate.

The ceasefire, announced after a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg earlier this month, was the first initiative by the Trump administration in collaboration with Russia to bring some stability to war-torn Syria.

“Israel is aware of Iran’s expansionist goals in Syria,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

Netanyahu said that he had brought up the issue with French President Emmanuel Macron during his meeting with the French leader earlier in the day.

The prime minister said that while the plan aims to keep Iran 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from the Israeli border, it did not address Iran’s plans to cement its presence in Syria, which, he said, included the establishment of a naval and air force bases.

The premier’s comments Sunday were his first remarks explicitly condemning the ceasefire, after having gingerly endorsed the deal as it came into effect earlier this month.

Also on Sunday, a senior Israeli official strongly condemned the deal, calling it “very bad” and saying it did not take into account Israeli security concerns, the Haaretz daily reported.

Opposition fighters drive a tank in a rebel-held area of the southern Syrian city of Daraa, during renewed clashes with regime loyalists on May 10, 2016. (AFP Photo/Mohamad Abazeed)

Apprehensions over Iranian designs in the region were stoked by recent movements of Shiite Muslim militias — loyal to Iran and fighting alongside Syrian government forces — toward Jordan’s border with Syria, and to another strategic area in the southeast, close to where the two countries meet Iraq.

The advances are part of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s push to regain territory from rebel groups, some backed by the West, in the southern Daraa province, and from Islamic State extremists in the southeast, near the triangle with Iraq.

But Syria’s neighbors suspect that Iran is pursuing a broader agenda, including carving out a land route through Syria that would create a territorial continuum from Iran and Iraq to Lebanon.

The ceasefire for southern Syria is meant to keep all forces pinned to their current positions, said Jordan’s government which participated in the talks.

This would prevent further advances by forces under Iran’s command, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.

Hezbollah parading its military equipment in Qusayr, Syria, November 2016. (Twitter)

Ceasefires have repeatedly collapsed in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, and it’s not clear if this one will last. The southern Syria truce is separate from so far unsuccessful efforts by Russia, Turkey and Iran to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria, including in the south.

Israel is expected to watch for truce violations.

Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to set up a permanent presence in Syria. Israel has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria against suspected shipments of “game-changing” weapons bound for Hezbollah.

A Jordanian official said the international community, regional powers and Jordan would not tolerate the creation of a “land line all the way from Tehran to Beirut.”

Such a “Shiite crescent” would disrupt the regional balance and be considered a “super red line,” he said, referring to rival Sunni and Shiite Muslim political camps led by Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively.

Conflicts between the camps have escalated in recent years, including in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen. Predominantly Sunni Jordan is a US ally and maintains discrete security ties with Israel.

Israel is also worried about the recent movements of Iranian-backed forces.

Israeli soldiers patrol near the border with Syria after projectiles fired from the war-torn country hit the Israeli Golan Heights on June 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)

Israel controls the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in southwestern Syria that it captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel has fought cross-border wars with Hezbollah from Lebanon.

The truce deal, the first such agreement between the Trump administration and Russia, could help the US retain more of a say over who fills the power vacuum left behind as Islamic State is routed from additional territory in Syria.

Washington has been resistant to letting Iranian forces and their proxies gain strength in Syria’s south. In recent weeks, US forces have shot down a Syrian aircraft that got too close to American forces as well as Iranian-made drones.

PM raps visiting Irish foreign minister over support for Palestinians

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday rebuked

According to a readout of their meeting provided by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu “expressed his dissatisfaction over Ireland’s traditional stance and told the Foreign Minister that his country does not condemn Palestinians for incitement and for glorifying those who commit terrorist attacks.”

The discussion focused mostly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the readout said.

Netanyahu also challenged Coveney over Dublin’s assistance to NGOs that “call for the destruction of Israel,” according to the readout. The prime minister further noted that “many European countries are overlooking the core problem of the conflict – the Palestinian refusal to recognize the state of the Jews.”

During his three-day trip to the region, the foreign minister is scheduled to meet with “representatives of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs funded by Irish Aid,” according to his office.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney lays a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance, where the names of major death and concentration camps are written, during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum commemorating the six million Jews killed by Nazis during World War II, in Jerusalem on July 11, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)

The Israeli readout did not cite Coveney‏’s response. On his personal Twitter page, Coveney‏, who became Ireland’s foreign minister only last month, posted a photo of his “[g]ood straight talking meeting” with Netanyahu, noting that he “raised concerns firmly and listened to Israeli perspectives.”

View image on Twitter

Good straight talking meeting with PM @netanyahu today, raised concerns firmly and listened to Israeli perspectives

Ireland has long been one of the Palestinians’ most staunch backers in Europe. Coveney’s visit comes on the heels of visits to Israel by the leaders of India and Rwanda, both of whom hailed bilateral ties and did not place great emphasis on the Palestinian issue.

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who participated in the Coveney-Netanyahu meeting, said that the Israeli side “made plain that the settlements will remain [under Israeli control] under any agreement.”

The current Gaza electricity crisis was discussed as well, she said, adding that “the Palestinian leadership is doing everything to abuse the Gazan population.”

Israel was disinclined to undertake a move like its 2005 disengagement from Gaza, after which the Strip came under the control of Hamas, she added. “We are not ready for a second Gaza,” she said, presumably indicating the government’s unwillingness to withdraw from the West Bank.

The deputy minister demanded Dublin cease its support for “organizations that seek to delegitimize Israel” such as Al Haq.

Earlier on Tuesday, Coveney visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Such a moving visit to @yadvashem in Jerusalem today – horrors of the Holocaust so powerfully and truthfully told

On Wednesday, he is scheduled to meet with President Reuven Rivlin. On Thursday, he will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki in Ramallah. He will also meet with United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nikolai Mladenov, and UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,Robert Piper.

“I am not new to the region and the issues faced, but this is my first visit as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade,” Coveney said in a statement issued Monday.

“In that context, I am looking forward to hearing a diverse range of views… Of course, I will also use the opportunity to make clear Ireland’s concerns about the impact of the continuing occupation and the fact that, as things stand, the prospects of a comprehensive peace agreement remain dim.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Arrives in Mosul to Declare Victory Over ISIS

MOSUL, Iraq — Dressed in a military uniform, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived here in Mosul on Sunday to congratulate Iraq’s armed forces for wresting the city from the Islamic State. The victory marked the formal end of a bloody campaign that lasted nearly nine months, left much of Iraq’s second-largest city in ruins, killed thousands of people and displaced nearly a million more.

While Iraqi troops were still mopping up the last pockets of resistance and Iraqi forces could be facing guerrilla attacks for weeks, the military began to savor its win in the shattered alleyways of the old city, where the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, put up a fierce last stand.

Hanging over the declaration of victory is the reality of the hard road ahead. The security forces in Mosul still face dangers, including ISIS sleeper cells and suicide bombers. And they must clear houses rigged with explosive booby traps so civilians can return and services can be restored. Nor is the broader fight over: Other cities and towns in Iraq remain under the militants’ control.

“It’s going to continue to be hard every day,” said Col. Pat Work, the commanding officer of the Second Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, which is carrying out the American advisory effort here.

“Iraqi security forces need to be on the top of their game, and we need to be over their shoulder helping them as they move through this transition to consolidate gains and really sink their hold in on the west side,” Colonel Work said as he rolled through the streets of west Mosul recently in an armored vehicle. “ISIS will challenge this.”

The victory could have been sweeter, though, as the Iraqis were denied the symbolism of hanging the national flag from the Grand al-Nuri Mosque and its distinctive leaning minaret, which was wiped from the skyline in recent weeks as a final act of barbarity by Islamic State militants who packed it with explosives and brought it down as government troops approached.

It was at that mosque in June 2014 where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi strode to the top of a pulpit and declared he was the leader of a caliphate straddling the borders of Iraq and Syria, a vast territory where for three years Islamist extremists have governed with a strict form of Islamic law, held women as sex slaves, carried out public beheadings and plotted terror attacks against the West.

An Iraqi forces sniper looks out Sunday after an airstrike by U.S.-led international coalition forces targeting the Islamic State, in the Old City of Mosul. CreditAhmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

This past week, as fighting raged nearby, Iraqi soldiers took selfies in front of the stump of the minaret and posed at the spot where Mr. Baghdadi made his speech. Destruction surrounded them, as did the stench of decaying bodies of Islamic State fighters, left to rot in the blazing sun.

The battle for Mosul began in October, after months of planning between Iraqis and American advisers, and some Obama administration officials had hoped it would conclude before they left office, giving a boost to the departing president’s efforts to defeat ISIS.

Instead, it lasted until now, and was far more brutal than many expected. With dense house-to-house fighting and a ceaseless barrage of snipers and suicide bombers, the fight for Mosul was some of the toughest urban warfare since World War II, American commanders have said. Iraqi officers, whose lives have been defined by ceaseless war, said the fighting there was among the worst they had seen.

“I have been with the Iraqi Army for 40 years,” said Maj. Gen. Sami al-Aradi, a commander of Iraq’s special forces. “I have participated in all of the battles of Iraq, but I’ve never seen anything like the battle for the old city.” He continued: “We have been fighting for each meter. And when I say we have been fighting for each meter, I mean it literally.”

Even as Mr. Abadi arrived here outfitted in the black uniform of Iraq’s elite Counterterrorism Service, Iraqi forces were pressing to erase a pocket of Islamic State resistance by the Tigris River. Speaking from his base in the old city, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, a senior commander in that service, said the militants’ enclave was about 200 yards long and 50 yards wide and that he expected it to be taken later in the day or on Monday.

After arriving here, Mr. Abadi met with the Federal Police, who have taken significant loses in the battle, and went to visit the joint command that is overseeing the operation. But in an acknowledgment that the victory he had come to proclaim was not completely sealed, Iraqi officials said the prime minister would not make a public statement until the last patch of Islamic State territory in Mosul was cleared.

Earlier in the day, a post on Mr. Abadi’s official Twitter account stated that he had come to Mosul “to announce its liberation and congratulate the armed forces and Iraqi people on this victory.”

Some militants had sought to escape by swimming across the river, but General Saadi said his soldiers had shot them. The general said that he had planted the Iraqi flag on the banks of the Tigris on Sunday morning — an act he described as a “special moment” in which he reflected on the many soldiers he had lost in the long battle.

Members of Iraqi Federal Police on Sunday carried suicide belts used by Islamic State militants in the Old City of Mosul. CreditAlaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

The retaking of the city, by all accounts, came at a great cost. Sensitive to the mounting casualties, the Iraqi government does not disclose how many of its troops have been killed. But deaths among Iraqi security forces in the Mosul battle had reached 774 by the end of March, according to American officers, which suggests the toll is more than a thousand now. Even more civilians are estimated to have been killed, many at the hands of the Islamic State and some inadvertently by American airstrikes. At least seven journalists were killed, including two French correspondents and their fixer, an Iraqi Kurdish journalist, in a mine explosion in recent weeks.

The Iraqis and their international partners will now be confronted by the immense challenge of restoring essential services like electricity and rebuilding destroyed hospitals, schools, homes and bridges, which were wrecked in the ground combat or by the airstrikes and artillery and Himars rocket attacks carried out by the American-led coalition to help Iraqi troops advance.

“When the fighting stops, the humanitarian crisis continues,” said Lise Grande, the deputy special representative for Iraq for the United Nations secretary general.

Western Mosul, especially its old city where the Islamic State made its last stand, was hit especially hard and is now a gray and decimated landscape. As the combat has drawn to a close, thousands of civilians have begun to return. But 676,000 of those who left the western half of the city have yet to come back, according to United Nations data.

It is not hard to see why. Of the 54 neighborhoods in western Mosul, 15 neighborhoods that include 32,000 houses were heavily damaged, according to data provided by Ms. Grande. An additional 23 neighborhoods are considered to be moderately damaged. The cost of the near-term repairs and the more substantial reconstruction that is needed in Mosul has been estimated by United Nations experts at more than $700 million, she said.

In the heart of the old city, craters littered intersections and roadways, marking the places where bombs pummeled the ground, dropped from coalition warplanes. Street after street was covered in soaring piles of rubble, with rebar poking out of shattered masonry.

Members of the Emergency Response Division rested on Sunday in the Old City of Mosul.CreditAlaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

In a church used as a weapons-making factory by the Islamic State, mortars were lying on the ground next to a pink backpack decorated with a picture of a kitten. When troops unzipped the backpack, they found plastic sachets of a white explosive powder, which they identified as C4 used in ISIS bombs. Just outside the church, the bodies of two dead Islamic State fighters were covered with a blanket. Iraqi soldiers stationed there identified them as a Russian citizen and a citizen of Tajikistan.

Mosul was the largest city in either Iraq or Syria held by the Islamic State, and its loss signifies the waning territorial claims of a terrorist group that had its beginnings in the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The group is also on the cusp of losing its de facto capital, the Syrian city of Raqqa, which is encircled by Arab and Kurdish fighters supported by the United States and backed by American firepower.

But the end of the Islamic State as a group holding territory does not mean peace is at hand, in Mosul or across Iraq. Iraqis expect an increase in terror attacks in urban centers, especially in the capital, Baghdad, as the group reverts to its insurgent roots.

Iraqi forces also still have to retake several Islamic State strongholds: Hawija and Tal Afar in northern Iraq and a series of towns in Iraq’s Euphrates River valley, stretching from Anah to Al Qaim.

While this is happening, Syrian fighters backed by American firepower are to complete the taking of Raqqa before moving to surround and kill the militants in Euphrates River towns on the Syrian side of the border.

“Mosul and Raqqa is not the end of it by any stretch of the imagination,” said Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Croft, the deputy commander of the American-led task force that is fighting the Islamic State.

The military victory in Mosul has come without a political agreement between Iraq’s two largest communities, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, whose stark sectarian divisions led to the rise of the Islamic State in the first place. For many members of Iraq’s minority Sunnis, the Islamic State was seen as a protector against abuses they suffered under Iraq’s Shiite-led government, especially under the former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

An Iraqi woman, who fled the fighting between government forces and Islamic State jihadists in the Old City of Mosul, waited on Saturday to be relocated. CreditFadel Senna/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After the Islamic State seized Mosul in 2014, many Sunnis welcomed them. Mr. Maliki was then removed from office, replaced by Haider al-Abadi, a more moderate and less-sectarian leader, but one widely viewed as weak. Under Mr. Abadi, there has been no meaningful reconciliation.

“I will leave Mosul because it has become a destroyed city,” said Aisha Abdullah, a teacher who endured life under the Islamic State. “In every corner of it there is memory and blood.”

And while the Islamic State, with its harsh rule, alienated many of the Sunni residents it sought to represent, many residents said its ideology caught on among some of the population, especially young men.

“There is no use in reconstructing the city if the people of Mosul don’t change,” Ms. Abdullah said. “There are still many people who assist ISIS, and the acts of violence will never end.”

Marwan Saeed, another Mosul resident, who lives in the city’s east side, which was liberated in January and where life has largely been restored to normal, with schools and shops reopening and most civilians returning home, said he feared for the future, now more than ever.

“Frankly, I’m desperate over the future,” he said. “ISIS destroyed the people’s mentality, and the wars destroyed the infrastructure, and we paid the price. There is no such thing as the phase after ISIS. ISIS is a mentality, and this mentality will not end with guns alone.”

And there is the fear that many Islamic State fighters who were not captured or killed had simply put down their guns and blended in with the civilian population, to live to fight another day.

The wives of Islamic State fighters also pose a risk. In the last week, a woman holding a baby and wearing a long-sleeved robe that disguised a hand-held detonator attempted to blow herself up as she approached an Iraqi soldier, said Second Lt. Muntather Laft, a media officer with the Counterterrorism Services unit.

“Do you know that most of the ISIS fighters have shaved their beards and took off their clothes, and now they are free?” said Zuhair Hazim al-Jibouri, a member of Mosul’s local council.

After London Attack, Prime Minister Says, ‘Enough Is Enough’

LONDON — Declaring “enough is enough,” Prime Minister Theresa May vowed on Sunday to conduct a sweeping review of Britain’s counterterrorism strategy after three knife-wielding assailants unleashed an assault late Saturday night, the third major terrorist attack in the country in three months.

At least seven people were killed and dozens more wounded, including 21 who remained in critical condition, as the men sped across London Bridge in a white van, ramming numerous pedestrians before emerging with large hunting knives for a rampage in the capital’s Borough Market, a crowded nightspot.

In a matter of minutes, the three assailants were chased down by eight armed officers who fired about 50 rounds, killing the men, who wore what appeared to be suicide vests but subsequently proved to be fake. One member of the public also sustained nonfatal gunshot wounds, the police said.

The assault came days before national elections this week and after the British government had downgraded the country’s threat level to “severe” from “critical,” meaning that an attack was highly likely, but not imminent.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had been carried out by “a detachment of Islamic State fighters.”

Analysts said the Islamic State considers anyone whose actions were inspired by the group to essentially be a member.

“This is how ISIS decentralizes its terrorism,” said Laith Alkhouri, a director at Flashpoint, a business risk intelligence company in New York that tracks militant and cyber threats. “As of now, there’s no indication that ISIS orchestrated or directed these attacks.”

On Sunday morning, Mrs. May’s Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party announced that they were suspending campaigning for the parliamentary elections — for less than a full day, in the case of Labour — out of respect for the victims. However, the right-wing, populist U.K. Independence Party said it would continue with its scheduled campaign events.

Forensic officers on Sunday at the scene of the attack on London Bridge. CreditDan Kitwood/Getty Images

Mrs. May said the election would go ahead on Thursday as planned.

The prime minister led an emergency meeting of her security cabinet on Sunday morning. In a statement afterward, she said the government would intensify its counterterrorism efforts to deal with Islamist radicalism at home and to try to restrict “the safe spaces it needs to breed,” both on the internet and in British communities.

“Everybody needs to go about their lives as they normally would,” she said. “Our society should continue to function in accordance with our values. But when it comes to taking on extremism and terrorism, things need to change.”

Mrs. May said that the government might extend the duration of custodial sentences for terrorism suspects, but that more needed to be done in binding communities together to combat what she called “a perversion of Islam,” adding, “There is, to be frank, far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.”

Mrs. May, who was home secretary for six years before becoming prime minister, has been pressing for a tougher line against Islamist extremism for some time. By stating on Sunday that police and security measures were insufficient, she was announcing a new effort, if re-elected, to break down what she sees as self-segregated communities and to be less delicate in confronting them.

Legally, she has been stymied by the difficulty of finding a definition of extremism that would hold up in court when challenged on the grounds of free speech.

A good example of the challenge is the case of Anjem Choudary, who spent nearly two decades preaching jihad and radicalizing youth. While some of his organizations were banned, Mr. Choudary, a lawyer, managed to avoid breaking the law while being credited with helping to recruit hundreds of British Muslims to fight for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Mr. Choudary was convicted in 2016 of inviting support for a terrorist organization after film emerged of him pledging allegiance to the Islamic State’s self-styled caliphate. He was sentenced to five years and six months in prison.

Mrs. May also called for a global effort to “regulate cyberspace,” something that is likely to prove difficult, and said the London attack was not connected to the suicide bombing at a pop concert in Manchester, England, last month that killed 22 people.

The London police detained men made to lie on the ground during a raid on a block of apartments in the Barking neighborhood of east London on Sunday. CreditFurqan Nabi/Press Association, via Associated Press

While none of the assailants in Saturday’s attack were identified, the counterterrorism police conducted a raid Sunday in Barking, in east London, and arrested 12 people — seven women and five men — between the ages of 19 and 60. The police said searches there continued, suggesting that they had identified at least one assailant.

Britain’s home secretary, Amber Rudd, said on Sunday that the government was confident the attackers were “radical Islamist terrorists.” Speaking on ITV television, Ms. Rudd said, “As the prime minister said, we are confident about the fact that they were radical Islamist terrorists, the way they were inspired, and we need to find out more about where this radicalization came from.”

She refused to say whether the attackers had been known to the authorities before Saturday.

Ken Chigbo, a resident of the neighborhood on King’s Road in Barking where the apartment was raided, said he knew the man who lived in the apartment. He said the neighbor lived with his wife and two young children, looked to be in his mid-20s and was known in the community by his nickname, “Abs.”

“He would always be in a religious gown to his shins, with tracksuit bottoms and trainers underneath,” Mr. Chigbo, 26, said about his neighbor, with whom he played table tennis. “I trusted him. We got on.”

Mr. Chigbo added that a group of three to four men would visit his neighbor’s apartment every week or so. “They were always in religious robes and wearing red-and-white checkered scarves wrapped around their heads,” he said.

The man named Abs had expressed interest in a van that Mr. Chigbo rented recently for a move. “He said, ‘Look, Ken, where did you get your van from, how much did you pay, do they do it in automatic?’” Mr. Chigbo recalled. “Then he said he and his family are thinking of moving too.”

With the general election days away, several polls have shown Mrs. May’s lead over Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, to be narrowing.

Mr. Corbyn issued his own strong condemnation of the attacks. “We are all shocked and horrified by the brutal attacks in London,” he said in a statement. “My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have died and the many who have been injured. Today, we will all grieve for their loss.”

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain spoke on Sunday morning about the Saturday night terrorist attack in London. CreditKevin Coombs/Reuters

Using different methods, pollsters are divided about the extent of the Conservative lead, but they all show the gap with Labour shrinking, making the landslide Mrs. May hoped for unlikely and even, for at least one polling company, raising the possibility of a hung Parliament.

It is too early to say how the attack will affect the vote, if at all. In general, crises tend to help the incumbent. However, Mrs. May did not seem to receive much of a polling bounce after the Manchester attack, partly because of some campaign mistakes. And as the former home secretary, she might receive some blame for perceived security failings.

Campaigning had already been suspended once, after the Manchester attack. That happened while Mrs. May was on the defensive, having had to change the position on home care policy announced just days earlier in her party’s manifesto.

Mayor Sadiq Khan of London said that the police had been dispersed across the city and that security would remain heightened throughout the week.

Mr. Khan, who described the assault as a “deliberate and cowardly attack on innocent Londoners,” said that some of the injured were in critical condition, raising the possibility that the death toll would rise. “We will never let these cowards win, and we will never be cowed by terrorism,” he said.

The Muslim Council of Britain also condemned the attack and praised the emergency services.

“Muslims everywhere are outraged and disgusted at these cowards who once again have destroyed the lives of our fellow Britons,” said the council’s secretary general, Harun Khan. “That this should happen in this month of Ramadan, when many Muslims were praying and fasting, only goes to show that these people respect neither life nor faith.”

The attack hit a nation still recovering from the shock of the bombing in Manchester almost two weeks ago, when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the doors of an Ariana Grande concert. Many of those killed were children, and 116 people were injured.

Ms. Grande returned to Manchester with a star-powered lineup on Sunday night to perform in a charity concert and pay tribute to the victims.

A police officer escorted people wrapped in foil blankets to get shelter in London on Sunday.CreditChris J Ratcliffe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Saturday’s attack was reminiscent of another on Westminster Bridge on March 22, when Khalid Masood, 52, drove a car into pedestrians, killing four people. He then stabbed a police officer to death before being shot and killed near Parliament. The police treated that attack, in which 50 were injured, as “Islamist-related terrorism.”

The mood in London veered from shock to anger in the aftermath of Saturday’s attack.

Expressions of support poured in from Europe, the United States and beyond. In a news media communiqué, President Emmanuel Macron of France expressed solidarity with the British people and described the attack as “horrendous and cowardly.”

“French citizens are among the victims,” he said. “France is doing everything it can to provide them with assistance.” As none of the victims were immediately identified, it was not clear if any were French.

In a statement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said that a Canadian citizen was among those killed in the attack. The premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, confirmed the death of Chrissy Archibald, who is from the province.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia said citizens of his nation, too, were among the injured.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said, “We are united beyond all borders in horror and sorrow, but also in determination.”

And President Trump said on Twitter: “Whatever the United States can do to help out in London and the UK, we will be there — WE ARE WITH YOU. GOD BLESS!”

But then the president took aim at “political correctness” and Mr. Khan. “We must stop being politically correct and get down to the business of security for our people,” he posted. “If we don’t get smart it will only get worse.”

Mr. Trump then accused Mr. Khan, inaccurately, of saying there was nothing for Londoners to be concerned about. “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” he wrote.

In fact, Mr. Khan wrote in a statement about the need to remain “calm and vigilant,” and was speaking about the enlarged police presence in the capital when he said there was no reason to be alarmed.

PM says US agreed to boost Israel military aid amid concern over Saudi deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that the US had agreed to boost the defense aid it gives to Israel and would ensure that the country maintained its qualitative advantage, even as the defense minister expressed concern that the massive military deal signed between Washington and Riyadh could spark a “crazy arms race.”

A day after US President Donald Trump concluded his 28-hour visit to Israel, the prime minister said that despite the massive arms deal that Trump signed with Saudi Arabia, “the US has pledged to maintain Israel’s qualitative advantage in the Middle East.”

“Three days ago, the US added $75 million to defense aid,” Netanyahu said, speaking at the Knesset at an event to mark 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War.

While thanking the US and its president, who vowed to stand behind Israel, Netanyahu stressed that the lesson of the Six Day War was that only Israel can guarantee its own security.

“We greatly appreciate the important assistance and support,” he said, “but I wish to emphasize once again that history has proven that Israel’s security depends on our preparedness and our ability to defend ourselves, with our own forces, against any threat.”

However, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman expressed concern with the huge deal Trump signed in Saudi Arabia.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump seen at Ben Gurion International Airport prior to the latter's departure from Israel on May 23, 2017. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

In the first public comment by an Israeli official on the $110-billion US sale of ships, tanks and the latest anti-missile systems to the kingdom, Liberman said he had expressed his concerns in recent talks with White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

“I’m not at peace with any arms race and the huge Saudi purchase for sure doesn’t add much to our peace of mind,” he said in an interview with Army Radio.

“I’m not at peace with the whole arms race in the Middle East,” he added. “It’s not just the Saudis, it’s also the Emirates, also the Qataris, also the Iranians; they are all acquiring weapons.”

“Weapons deals in the Middle East just in 2016 reached $215-216 billion and this is no small sum,” Lieberman said.

Defense Ministor Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on May 15 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“It needs to be understood that there is a crazy arms race going on, the amount of arms all the players in the region are acquiring and the desire to produce weapons in places like Yemen and Lebanon.”

The Saudi deal, to be phased over 10 years, was announced on Saturday as Trump began a two-day visit to the Gulf state before travelling on to Israel.

US administration officials say it is the biggest single arms deal in American history.

Nevertheless, Liberman said, “We are following developments and are aware and have ways of dealing with this.”

The White House said that in talks with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, “President Trump underscored the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, including to the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

The thrust of the deal with Riyadh aims to help the Saudi military bolster its defences to deter bitter rival Iran and its missile programme, which Netanyahu has said potentially poses an existential threat to the Jewish state.

During his trip, Trump pitched the idea of a coalition of Sunni Arab states against Iran and “Islamic extremism” and said Israel could find a communality of interest with such a grouping.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have no official relations but both have expressed serious concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The US package reportedly includes the renewed sale of precision-guided munitions that had been blocked under president Barack Obama’s administration, for fear the Saudis would use them on civilian targets in Yemen, where Riyadh is fighting a war against Iranian-backed Huthi rebels.

The agreement clears the way for the sale of Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile technologies, providing Riyadh with state-of-the-art capabilities that could thwart an Iranian rocket attack.

In March Trump pledged to maintain previous levels of funding to the Jewish state in his first budget proposal.

The budget proposal provides $3.1 billion to meet the security assistance commitment to Israel.

The additional money is for this fiscal year. From next year a 10-year deal agreed under former president Barack Obama will increase US military aid to Israel significantly.

That package, signed by the two parties in September 2016, will grant Israel $3.8 billion annually from 2018 through 2028.



For Israel, a photograph of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Western Wall with President Donald Trump could be worth more than a thousand words.

One can almost see Netanyahu playing the professorial role he so loves, explaining to Trump about King Herod and the ancient site that bears testimony to the steadfast Jewish roots to the Land of Israel and its holy city of Jerusalem.


It would also be one more Netanyahu mark on Israeli history: he would be the prime minister that accompanied the first sitting US president when he visited the Western Wall.

But this is about more than a glorified selfie or a vanity play.

Trump’s trip comes as the issue of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem in general and the Old City specifically has been hotly contested by the international community, which prefers to settle the city’s status within the context of a final-status solution with the Palestinians.

The United States government is divided on the issue with congressional legislation, passed in 1995, mandating that the US Embassy be relocated to Jerusalem.

A 1980 UN Security Council resolution called on nations to remove their respective embassies from Jerusalem to protest Israel’s annexation of areas of the city over the pre- 1967 lines. The State Department and the White House have held by this view, with US presidents waiving execution of the legislation twice a year. The next deadline for such a waiver is June 1.

Earlier this month UNESCO’s Executive Board passed a resolution disavowing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.

In December, the Security Council, in Resolution 2334, affirmed the illegality of Israeli sovereignty in east Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Western Wall.

The double votes underscore the tenuous nature of Israel’s hold on its capital city, precisely as Israel readies to celebrate 50 years of the city’s reunification in the Six Day War.

An announcement by Trump during his visit that he planned to make good on his preelection promise to relocate the embassy, would have been a statement of legitimacy by the US in support of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Since US officials have explained that this will not happen, the visual images of Trump with Netanyahu at the Western Wall could have subtly indicated that the White House considered the site part of Israel.

Such a diplomatic nod by Israel’s strongest ally would help bolster Israel’s claim to Jerusalem on the international stage.

It’s presumed Trump wouldn’t even take this small step because he wants to avoid angering the Palestinians or the larger Arab world on the subject of Jerusalem, precisely at the moment he is pushing for a peace deal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump, therefore, is likely to stand alone, with Western Wall and Holy Site’s Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz as Israel’s sole representative.

Such a solitary visit waters down the issue to a much more ambiguous statement.

It’s like a coin, Trump can turn from side to side, depending on the diplomatic message that suits him.

To the Israelis, Trump can say, he supports Israeli and Jewish history in Jerusalem, after all he visited the Western Wall.

To the Arab world and to the Palestinians, he can say, he did it alone, without any official governmental representation as a sign that east Jerusalem, could be part of their future state in any final-status agreement.

Western Wall will always be Israeli, PM says ahead of Trump visit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Israeli sovereignty over the Jerusalem’s holy sites is not up for negotiation and said the city will always be Israel’s capital Sunday, hours before US President Donald Trump was set to touch down in the country.

Speaking to a crowd that included new US ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Netanyahu told a ceremony marking 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War that Jerusalem was not conquered, but rather liberated, echoing language typically used by the Israeli right.

“50 years ago, we returned to the heart of our capital and our land, 50 years ago, we didn’t conquer we liberated,” he said.

“By bravely fighting and with the pride of our people, once again Jerusalem was joined together, and therefore today, I say in a loud clear voice, Jerusalem always was and always will be the capital of Israel,” he added.

An audio slideshow is projected on the ancient walls of Jerusalem's Old City on May 20, 2017, on the beginning of the week marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Israeli-Arab War. ( AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)

Netanyahu’s comments came days after a rift appeared to form between the US and Israeli alliance, as the Trump administration refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, considered the holiest site where Jews may pray.

“The Temple Mount and Western Wall will always be under Israeli sovereignty,” Netanyahu told the event, which was attended by President Reuven Rivlin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and President of the Supreme Court Miriam Naor.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Israeli-Arab War, in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 21, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / EPA POOL / ABIR SULTAN)

Trump, who will arrive on Monday and hold meetings with Netanyahu and Rivlin, is slated to visit Jerusalem’s Old City and Western Wall on Tuesday, the first ever visit to the holy site by a sitting US president.

According to accounts, the White House refused to allow Netanyahu or any other Israeli official accompany Trump during the visit, saying that the area did not belong to Israel.

Trump had called Jerusalem Israel’s “eternal capital” and vowed to move the US embassy there while campaigning for president, but has since appeared to retreat from those stances.

View from the Mount of Olives shows a Jerusalem's Old City during a light-show marking the 50th anniversary of reunification of the city, May 21, 2017. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

“President Trump has not yet made a decision on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and doesn’t plan on making a decision on this issue until after his visit,” a US official told The Times of Israel last week.

Netanyahu said he was looking forward to the visit of Trump, calling him “a true friend of Israel.” He also called Friedman “the right man for the right place and with the right name, in the city of King David — Jerusalem.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem's reunification near Jerusalem Old City, May 21, 2017. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Netanyahu’s speech kicked off several days of events marking the 50th anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem in 1967.

Thousands of Jerusalemites flooded the streets surrounding the capital’s Old City walls to watch a sound and light show projected onto the 16th century stone walls.

Netanyahu and Rivlin both condemned the United Nations cultural body UNESCO for passing a series of resolutions that diminish or deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and refer to Israel as an occupying power.

“We will continue to build Jerusalem, our capital… our eternal capital forever,” Netanyahu said, rebuffing reports of a de-facto freeze on building in Jewish neighborhoods in the east of the city.

A general view of a sound and light show projected on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City together with fireworks, May 21, 2017, (AFP/Menahem KAHANA)

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, but the move has not been recognized internationally and most countries refuse to recognize any part of the city as Israel’s capital, saying it is an issue that will need to be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians.

Longtime Jerusalem resident Rivlin also said Israel would not agree to split Jerusalem.

President Reuven RIvlin and US Ambassador David Friedman attend a ceremony at the start of a week long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem's reunification, May 21, 2017. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

“There are those who would use a Solomon-like solution to Jerusalem,” Rivlin said. He decried any “surgical” attempts to solve the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a division of the city in the style of King Solomon’s feigned judgement to divide in a half a baby contested by two mothers. “But those who would perform surgery to the city.. Jerusalem is foreign to him and he is a foreigner to it,” Rivlin said.

Israelis walks past a poster welcoming and supporting US President Donald Trump in downtown Jerusalem, on May 21, 2017, on the eve of a two-day visit of the US president. (AFP/ MENAHEM KAHANA)

The sound and light show on the Old City’s Ottoman-era walls followed the politicians remarks.

With fireworks and lasers lighting up the night sky, some of Israel’s most well-known performers sang a series of songs for and about Jerusalem.

Singer Shuli Natan sang the song that made her a household name, Naomi Shemer’s 1967 standard, “Jerusalem of Gold.”

Jerusalem Day is marked each year according to the Hebrew calendar date for the reunification — 28th of Iyyar, which this year falls on Wednesday.

Watchdog says first illegal outpost being built since PM vowed to halt them

A new illegal outpost is being constructed in the West Bank, a watchdog group said Saturday, the first since a government decision to curtail settlement building as a goodwill gesture to US President Donald Trump.

A statement from the NGO Peace Now said that construction has begun on a new outpost adjacent to the settlement of Adam, east of the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

According to the group, the new outpost consists of seven light structures, such as mobile homes, some of which are still under construction.

According to the Haaretz daily, police on Saturday ordered building in the new settlement stopped.

The settlement is being built without government approval, Peace Now said. The founding residents told the organization the high cost of living in Jerusalem drove them to seek more affordable housing in the West Bank, and that they were not motivated by political or religious ideology.

“Regardless of the reasoning behind the outpost residents, the political implication of the outpost are the same,” said Peace Now, which argues that continued settlement construction hampers the chances for a two-state peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

“What distinguishes this outpost from others is the settler leadership’s cynical exploitation of the economic situation of the new residents of the outpost, by granting them free land and enabling them to construct homes illegally, as long as it contributes to the settler goals of destroying the possibility of ever creating a Palestinian state,” Peace Now said.

There was no immediate reaction from the government, with the report coming out on Shabbat.

One outpost member told the Haaretz daily that the new secular community would also be open to Palestinian residents.

“I have four children and no money,” Assaf Mamman told the daily. “There’s a housing crisis in Jerusalem, it’s crowded. Here there’s space to build something from the ground up, a village for both Jews and Arabs.”

However, Peace Now said the claim that Palestinians would be able to live there appeared to be false.

“According to Peace Now’s field visits and research, with quite certainty, there are no such indications that this is true,” Peace Now said.

Some of the other settlers in the area disapprove of the new outpost.

“It’s an eyesore,” one Adam resident told Haaretz. “Some of us paid over a million shekels, and all of a sudden we see that there are people who are getting a dunam (1/4 acres) or two (of land) for free?”

Another Adam resident, who did not give his name, said that local residents were unhappy their new neighbors were secular, and were not committed to Israel’s settlement movement.

The location of the new outpost (courtesy/ Peace Now)

“These aren’t the [national religious] types who care and come here out of love for the land,” he said. “These people who are coming have no money, most of them are divorced, which is asking for trouble. They aren’t religious and they’re not here because of their ideology.”

The new outpost is being built just beyond the fence surrounding Adam, and unlike some illegally built West Bank settlements, it is not situated on private Palestinian land. The founders don’t have a building permit, but the Civil Administration has already approved general construction permits for the area surrounding Adam, making it difficult for the IDF to evict them.

The construction comes after Israel evacuated the illegal Amona outpost earlier in the year. Amona was built on private Palestinian land and the courts ruled it had to be evacuated. The government has since legislated a law that would allow settlements built on private land to be retroactively recognized with compensation given to the Palestinian owners. That law is being challenged in the High Court of Justice.

Defense Ministry dismantling Amona outpost in the central West Bank on February 6, 2017. (Courtesy Amona Council)

The new community could still be evacuated by the Binyamin Regional Council, but according to Haaretz, that would be unlikely as the council generally tolerates the building of illegal outposts in its jurisdiction.

Last month, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that any future Israeli construction in the West Bank would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. However, if legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, new homes will be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them.

The specifics of the limitations were not immediately available, and it was not clear whether they constituted any significant change in policy beyond a general declaration of intent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his ministers at the time the government would also prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts.

The Trump administration — which has held the position that settlements are not “an impediment to peace,” but at the same time do not “help to advance peace” — expressed approval of an Israeli decision to curtail settlement building to within existing settlement boundaries or, in most cases, adjacent to them.

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu told the security cabinet in announcing the move.

The announcement came hours after the security cabinet approved the establishment of a new settlement in the West Bank for families evicted from the recently razed Amona outpost.