Palestinian Who Killed 3 Teens That Sparked Gaza War Sentenced
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JERUSALEM — A Palestinian convicted of masterminding the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers, which sparked a chain of events that led to last summer’s Gaza war, was sentenced to life in prison by an Israeli court on Tuesday.
The military court handed Hussam Qawasmeh three life sentences, one for each teen. The 40yearold resident of the West Bank town of Hebron admitted to masterminding the kidnapping and to receiving funds from Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, in order to commit attacks, the military said.
The two Palestinians Israel accused of killing the teenagers were shot dead in a firefight with Israeli forces in September.
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16year old with dual IsraeliAmerican citizenship, were abducted and killed in June while hitchhiking home in the West Bank.
Israel launched an extensive search operation and arrested hundreds of Hamas members in the West Bank. Hamas escalated rocket fire on southern Israeli cities, prompting a military response that escalated into a 50day war.
More than 2,100 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed in the fighting, which devastated large parts of Gaza, leaving tens of thousands homeless. On the Israeli side, attacks through tunnels led to the evacuation of border communities and rocket fire which reached major cities damaged several homes and ground daily life to a halt.
JERUSALEM—Two Hamas operatives who set off a cycle of violence three months ago that led to more than 2,000 dead Palestinians and the devastation of much of Gaza were cornered and shot dead early Tuesday by Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Hebron.
The pair, Marwan Kawasmeh and Amar Abu-Eisha, had been in hiding since picking up three hitchhiking Israeli yeshiva students last June and shooting them to death in their car.
Israeli security forces staged a massive, month-long search at the time for the three—two aged 16 and one 19—before uncovering their bodies. During the course of the search, Israel rounded up scores of Hamas operatives in the West Bank after learning that the organization was responsible for the murders.
In response, militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets into Israel. When the rocketing did not cease after several days, the Israeli Air Force attacked and the fighting escalated.
In the 50-day confrontation, part of which involved Israeli ground forces, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed. Israel lost 73 soldiers and civilians.
Israeli officials said that the two wanted men had been moving from place to place in the Hebron area for the past three months, provided with food and shelter by the extensive Kawasmeh clan. At one point, they hid in an unused cesspool covered with sand and furnished with a small pipe for breathing. They also hid out in mosques, said officials. It is believed that they were planning to escape to Jordan when the search for them eased off.
After midnight last night, a police SWAT team surrounded the two-story carpentry workshop in which the wanted pair had taken shelter. When they responded to calls for surrender with shots, officials said, a bulldozer knocked down one side of the building and the two men were killed in a shootout. Three other members of the Kawasmeh clan living nearby were arrested.
The June kidnapping had apparently been staged in order to bargain for the release of Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel as was done with kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in Gaza three years ago. However, the grave for the victims had already been dug before the abduction. The kidnappers planned to kill them because it would have been too difficult to hide them on the West Bank. They planned to bargain for the release of prisoners in return for the bodies of the students.
Meanwhile, Hamas officials in Cairo today threatened not to take part in truce talks with Israel because of the killing of the two men in Hebron. The talks, scheduled to start in a few days under Egypt’s patronage, are aimed at achieving a long-term truce in Gaza. A senior Hamas official said that the matter had been reconsidered and that Hamas would participate in the talks.
Hussam Qawasme of Hebron was allegedly paid by terror group Hamas $61,500 dollars for masterminding the June 12 abduction and subsequent murder of Israeli teens Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Frenkel, and Gilad Sha’ar, according to a report that has been cleared for publication by Israel’s media censors.
The money made its way from Gaza to Hebron through Qawasame’s mother and another unidentified woman, according to the indictment. He then bought a vehicle and four weapons to carry out the attack.
Some point to the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teens as the ignition switch that sparked a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas. Israel lost 66 soldiers in battle, while Hamas’s casualties reached over 1,000 militants.
Qawasame, arrested on July 11 and charged with murdering the three teens, has a brother who is a well-known Hamas operative in the Gaza Strip, where the Muslim Brotherhood arm of the Palestinian movement rules with an iron fist. According to reports, Qawasame’s brother transferred the funds prior to executing the murderous plans.
Israel’s Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said that Qawasme was responsible for hiding the bodies of the three teens, stashing them away at a field he had previously purchased in the town of Halhul. The Shin Bet said in a statement, “In an intelligence operation launched by the Shin Bet, Hussam Qawasme was tracked down and arrested in a hideout in the Shuafat refugee camp… He is the son of a family whose sons have been involved in severe terror attacks on behalf of Hamas.”
Qawasame’s brother was formerly a prisoner in Israel who was freed as part of the deal reached when captured soldier Gilad Shalit was in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian terrorists.
The two men who actually carried out the innocent teens’ executions, Marwan Qawasme and Amer Abu Aisha, are believed to have fled the country.
Former President of the United States and unapologetic friend of violent extremists around the globe Jimmy Carter spoke this past weekend at an Islamic conference and hailed the “principles of Allah” as the key to finally seeing peace in the Middle East.
The failed president who was too weak to retrieve our captured U.S. citizens from the hands of Iranian college students has been seen, until recent years, as the worst president with regards to foreign policy. With the numerous failures of President Obama having devastating consequences around the globe, it’s clear that Jimmy Carter has been downgraded to being the second most-cowardly president in history.
During his speech at the annual convention for the Islamic Society of North America on Saturday, Carter called for “justice for the Palestinians,” saying, “You can’t bring peace to the Middle East without justice and human rights for the Palestinians. When my prayers are answered and we have peace in that Holy Land then the Israelis and all their neighbors will be blessed to live in peace and prosperity.”
Of course, proposals of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been routinely rejected by Hamas and other Palestinian thugs.
During a luncheon earlier in the day, Carter hailed his own efforts to bring peace to the world and declared:
“We are all Americans in a system that allows basic human rights: peace, justice and the ability to treat each other as equals. I hope all of you will use the principles of Allah to bring peace and justice to all.”
Of course, these “principles of Allah” by which ISIS, Hamas and other terrorist organizations continue to commit horrific acts by citing Allah as the driving force.
Thereligionofpeace.com claims that in the last ten years, 18,000 terror attacks have been carried out by those looking to fulfill the “principles of Allah.”
Youngconservatives.com highlights the supposed “principles of Allah” to which Carter refers. These include a command from the messenger of Allah that Muslims must “fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah.”
While Carter has carved out a place in history as the coddler of despots, it’s curious that he has not approached the pursuit of peace by calling for the Muslim world to adhere to the principles of Christ. It’s equally odd that he has not appealed to the Muslim world to adhere to the principles of Judaism.
Israel Claims Nearly 1,000 Acres of West Bank Land Near Bethlehem
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — Israel on Sunday laid claim to nearly 1,000 acres of West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem — a step that could herald significant Israeli construction in the area — defying Palestinian demands for a halt in settlement expansion and challenging world opinion.
Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes the construction of settlements in the West Bank, said that the action on Sunday might be the largest single appropriation of West Bank land in decades and that it could “dramatically change the reality” in the area.
Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.
Israeli officials said the political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land came after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June while hitchhiking in that area. In July, the Israeli authorities arrested a Palestinian who was accused of being the prime mover in the kidnapping and killing of the teenagers. The timing of the land appropriation suggested that it was meant as a kind of compensation for the settlers and punishment for the Palestinians.
The land, which is near the small Jewish settlement of Gvaot in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, has now officially been declared “state land,” as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians, clearing the way for the potential approval of Israeli building plans there.
But the mayor of the nearby Palestinian town of Surif, Ahmad Lafi, said the land belonged to Palestinian families from the area. He told the official Palestinian news agency Wafa that Israeli Army forces and personnel arrived in the town early Sunday and posted orders announcing the seizure of land that was planted with olive and forest trees in Surif and the nearby villages of Al-Jaba’a and Wadi Fukin.
The kidnapping of the teenagers prompted an Israeli military clampdown in the West Bank against Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza and that Israel said was behind the abductions. The subsequent tensions along the Israel-Gaza border erupted into a 50-day war that ended last week with an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.
The land appropriation has quickly turned attention back to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and exposed the contradictory visions in the Israeli government that hamper the prospects of any broader Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, condemned the announcement and called for a reversal of the land claim, saying that it would “further deteriorate the situation” and that all settlement was illegal.
Though Israel says that it intends to keep the Etzion settlement bloc under any permanent agreement with the Palestinians and that most recent peace plans have involved land swaps, most countries consider Israeli settlements to be a violation of international law. The continued construction has also been a constant source of tension between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its most important Western allies.
The last round of American-brokered peace talks broke down in April. Israelsuspended the troubled talks after Mr. Abbas forged a reconciliation pact with the Palestinian Authority’s rival, Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist. American officials also said that Israel’s repeated announcements of new settlement construction contributed to the collapse of the talks.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s finance minister, who has spoken out in favor of a new diplomatic process, told reporters on Sunday that he “was not aware of the decision” about the land around Gvaot and had instructed his team to look into it. “We are against any swift changes in the West Bank right now because we need to go back to some kind of process there,” he said. He added that the Israeli government was now talking to the Palestinian Authority about the situation in Gaza, “and this is a good thing.”
But Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, said that instead of strengthening the Palestinian moderates, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “turns his back on the Palestinian Authority and sticks a political knife in the back” of Mr. Abbas, referring to the latest land appropriation. “Since the 1980s, we don’t remember a declaration of such dimensions,” Mr. Oppenheimer told Israel Radio.
Israeli officials said that the land declaration Sunday was open to judicial review and that interested parties had 45 days in which to register objections.
TEL AVIV – In the week leading up to Tuesday’s cease-fire announcement, Hamas deployed an alarming new weapon: Russian-manufactured mortars with accurate GPS capabilities.
Senior Egyptian security officials say Hamas purchased the precision mortars from rebels who looted Muammar Gadhafi’s reserves after the Libyan strongman was toppled by a U.S.-NATO campaign in 2011.
The rebels also reportedly acquired thousands of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, or MANPADS, said to be capable of downing passenger jets.
The security officials said the mortars, believed to number in the hundreds, were smuggled into Gaza during the administration of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who served as Egyptian president until being deposed in July 2013.
The GPS-driven mortars defy Israel’s Iron Dome and proved to be devastating in the last week, said the officials.
On Tuesday alone, 12 mortars were fired at the Eshkol region outside of Gaza, scoring direct hits and killing one civilian while injuring seven, two of whom were critically wounded. Two days earlier, mortars scores direct hits at the Erez Crossing area, injuring four civilians.
Tuesday, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a broad longer-term cease-fire.
The truce calls for an end to Hamas attacks and Israel Defense Force strikes and the opening of Israel’s border with Gaza to more humanitarian goods. The Gaza-Egypt border is to be gradually reopened under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority, which will take responsibility for ensuring against weapons smuggling.
Also, Israel agreed to extend a so-called fishing zone off Gaza’s coast to six miles from three miles.
The truce calls for the discussion of broader issues in the near future, including the release in Israel of hundreds of Hamas prisoners and Hamas requests for an airport and seaport. Israel is demanding the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, possibly under an international mechanism.
Pressure is mounting on social media for soccer superstar Leo Messi to publicly condemn the death of a four-year-old Israeli child who was a fan of Messi’s before he was killed by Hamas rocket fire on Friday.
Messi, who plays for a soccer team funded by the Qatari government, which also serves as Hamas’ chief financier, has come under increasing pressure to condemn the death of Jewish child Daniel Tregerman just two weeks after the soccer player expressed remorse over the death of Palestinian children.
Tregerman was pictured in photographs sporting Messi’s Barcelona team jersey.
Israelis on social media are now launching a campaign to pressure Messi into condemning Hamas’ ongoing attacks on Israeli citizens.
“Hey Leo Messi, take a look at that boy, Daniel Tregerman, wearing the national jersey of the best player in the world,” Liran Cohen, an Israeli citizen, wrote in a Facebook post that tagged Messi, according to Israel Hayom.
“As you can see, you were Daniel’s hero. He was killed today, by a mortar which was fired by Hamas, the terror organization that your team’s #1 sponsors is [sic] sponsoring,” Cohen was reported to have written. “Is this what you stand for? FC Barcelona—is this what you stand for? I guess money can buy everything.”
The post went viral on Facebook and also on Twitter, but has yet to prompt a response from Messi.
The mayor of the Israeli town Raanana also urged Messi to condemn Tregerman’s death, according to Israel Hayom.
“A personal word to Leo Messi: Daniel looked up to You and saw in You more than a football star,” Israel Hayom quoted Mayor Zeev Bielski as writing. “For your information, the Qatars [sic] who finance your football club, are also sponsors of the hamas [sic] who launched the missile that killed your 4 years [sic] old fan, Daniel.”
Tragerman’s mother Gila also noted that her son was a huge fan of Messi’s while recounting the details of Hamas’ rocket attack.
“The children were playing in a tent inside the house, and from the moment of the siren to the explosion only three seconds passed,” Gila Tregerman was quoted as saying by Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “We didn’t have time to get the children and go into the protected room.”
“Daniel was very responsible about the warnings and the sirens, and whenever there was an alert he knew just what to do,” she said. “Once everyone was inside the safe room he would say, ‘Now we’re all safe.’ This time he had only three seconds from the siren to the explosion, and didn’t make it. Daniel was a soccer fan and sported a Lionel Messi shirt.”
While Messi has remained silent about his Israeli fan’s death, he posted several weeks ago on Facebook about how saddened he is by the death of Palestinians.
“As a father and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, I am terribly saddened by the images coming from the conflict between Israel and Palestine, where violence has already claimed so many young lives and to injure countless children,” Messi reportedlywrote in a Facebook post that featured the image of an injured Palestinian child.
Messi’s Barcelona football team is funded by the Qatari government, which has come under criticism for serving as Hamas’ top financier and enabling its terror campaign against Israel.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israel bombed an apartment tower in downtown Gaza City on Saturday, collapsing the 12-story building in an unprecedented strike, while Hamas kept up heavy rocket fire that sent more Israelis fleeing border areas close to Gaza.
The violence signaled that a speedy resumption of truce talks is unlikely, despite another appeal by mediator Egypt. Gaps between Israel and Hamas on a border deal for blockaded Gaza remain vast, and repeated rounds of talks have ended in failure.
In the Gaza City strike, a huge fireball followed by a black column of smoke rose into the sky after two Israeli missiles toppled the Zafer Tower, one in a group of several high-rises in the upscale Tel al-Hawa neighborhood. Neighboring buildings shook from the blasts.
The Israeli military said the missiles targeted a Hamas operations room in the building, but did not explain why the entire tower with 44 apartments was brought down.
Gaza police said a warning missile had been fired five minutes earlier and that some residents were able to rush out of the building in time. Still, 22 people were wounded, including 11 children and five women, according to Gaza hospital officials.
Maher Abu Sedo, an area resident, said the two strikes came within seconds of each other.
“People started shouting Allahu Akbar, and women and kids were screaming,” he said. “This is crazy. The state of Israel has resorted to madness. In less than a minute, 44 families have become displaced … They lost everything, their house, their money, their memories and their security.”
Some 100,000 Gazans have become homeless, with more than 17,000 homes destroyed or damaged beyond repair, according to U.N. figures. However, Saturday strike marked the first time an entire apartment high-rise was destroyed.
Elsewhere in Gaza, an airstrike on a car killed a man and wounded 11 people, said Ayman Sahabani, head of the emergency room at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine later identified the man killed as a field commander.
Meanwhile, Gaza militants fired over 100 rockets and mortar shells at Israel on Saturday. The barrage came a day after a mortar shell from Gaza hit a farming village in southern Israel, killing a 4-year-old boy.
Israeli media said large numbers of residents of southern Israeli communities near the Gaza border were leaving their homes and heading for safer areas following the death of the boy in Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
“I say whoever can leave, whose presence is not crucial should leave,” said Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Ahronovich during a visit to the south on Saturday.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called on southern residents to be ready for a prolonged campaign against Hamas militants.
“In the end we will win,” he said Saturday. “This is a test of staying power and strength.”
Since the fighting erupted on July 8, Israel has launched some 5,000 airstrikes at Gaza, while Gaza militants have fired close to 4,000 rockets and mortars, according to the Israeli military.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, including close to 500 children, have been killed, according to Palestinian health officials and U.N. figures. Israel has lost 64 soldiers and four civilians.
Israel says it is targeting sites linked to militants, including rocket launchers, command centers and weapons depots. The U.N. says about three-fourth of the Palestinians killed have been civilians.
A formula for ending the war remains elusive.
Hamas demands that Israel and Egypt lift a Gaza border blockade they imposed in 2007, after Hamas seized the territory from Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel says it can ease, but not remove the stifling restrictions on Palestinian trade and travel unless Gaza militants agree to disarm and stop manufacturing or smuggling weapons. Hamas has rejected that demand.
During stop-and-go truce talks, Egypt has presented compromise proposals, including a gradual easing of movement for people and cargo at two crossings between Israel and Gaza. However, Israel offered no specific commitments, and Hamas rejected the idea.
Abbas has urged Hamas to accept the plan, which would also give him a new foothold in Gaza because forces under his command would be deployed at the border crossings.
Abbas met Saturday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo to try to find ways to resume truce talks. After the meeting, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry urged Israel and Hamas to agree to an open-ended cease-fire and resume indirect talks. Egyptian officials did not say how they expected renewed talks to produce a different outcome after repeated failures.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the collapse of the most recent cease-fire. In a phone conversation with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Netanyahu alleged that Hamas has violated 11 cease-fires since the war started, Netanyahu’s office said.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev had no immediate comment regarding the renewed call for a cease-fire. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Gaza’s ruling Hamas, said the group would consider the Egyptian appeal, but there was no sign it would budge from longstanding demands.
Earlier Saturday, Hamas announced that it has signed a pledge to back any Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court. Such a bid could expose Israel, as well as Hamas, to possible war crimes prosecution.
Hamas had hesitated for weeks before giving its written consent. Its decision could further increase domestic pressure on Abbas to turn to the court.
Abbas has debated the issue for months, since seeking ICC action could transform his relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile, strain his ties with the United States and deprive his government of badly needed Western financial support.
Last month, Abbas said he would not make a move without the written consent of all Palestinian factions. He obtained such support from all groups represented in the Palestine Liberation Organization, while Hamas, not a PLO member, said it would study the idea.
It remains unclear if Abbas will turn to the court, now that he has Hamas support in writing. An Abbas aide said last week that no decision would be made before March when a U.N. commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed in the Gaza war is to hand in its findings.