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Iron Dome Downs Five Rockets Aimed at Ashkelon

By YnetNews

Warning sirens wailed in the southern city just before 2 a.m. local time, alerting residents to quickly find shelter. Ashkelon and other southern Israeli cities near Gaza were the targets of constant rocket fire for years before Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. Rocket fire from the Strip was reduced dramatically following the 8-day military campaign.

On Thursday at least five rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip in the direction of Ashkelon,. The Iron Dome missile defense system most likely intercepted all rockets.

No injuries or damage were reported. A red alert siren sounded in and around Ashkelon prior to the interceptions. The IDF is combing the area to see if another rocket launched at the region had hit an open area.

On Monday, only a short time after leaders from Israel and the world left the northern Negev ranch where former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was laid to rest, two rockets were launched at the area. There were no injuries or damage reported.

13,000 Teenagers Complete Hamas Training Camps to Emulate `Suicide Martyrs'

By The Times of Israel

The Hamas government in Gaza celebrated the graduation on Monday of paramilitary camps geared at training high-school children "to follow in the footsteps of the suicide martyrs." The camps, titled "the pioneers of liberation," are run by Hamas's ministries of education and interior. Some 13,000 students in grades 10-12 participated in the one-week training camps this year, compared to 5,000 last year when the program was launched, Israeli sources with knowledge of the program said.

The corps of instructors consists mainly of active members of Hamas' security forces, and the curriculum includes weapons training, first aid, self defense, marching exercises and "security awareness" classes on identifying Israeli spies.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Interior Minister Fathi Hammad and Education Minister Usama Mzeini attended the graduation ceremony, each delivering fiery speeches stressing the importance of military training in developing a new generation of Palestinian combatants. "Beware this generation," Haniyeh said, addressing Israel. "This is a generation which knows no fear. It is the generation of the missile, the tunnel and the suicide operations."

The Hamas prime minister added that female trainers are also on staff "to oversee the training of the young women to follow in the footsteps of the female suicide operatives."

Hammad, the interior minister, said the training was in preparation for the coming war with Israel. "This generation is a sapling from God on earth. It will harvest the enemies of God and be the pride of all nations," he said.

Hamdi Shaqura, deputy director of program affairs at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based watchdog, said that his organization issued no statement on the training. "To the best of my knowledge no other organization in Gaza issued a statement either," he told The Times of Israel.

Omar Dawabha, an eleventh-grader who took part in the training, was quoted on the website of Hamas' interior ministry saying that "he learned how to safeguard our rights and principles." Another student, Mohammed Abu Nar, addressed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem at the graduation ceremony. "We are the pioneers of liberation, we are coming to purify you from the Zionists," he said.


Israel Closely Eyes Dismantling of Syria's Chemical Weapons

By Reuters and Israel Hayom

The internationally monitored convoys removing Syria's chemical weapons are at little risk of being seized by rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad or by his Lebanese Hizbullah allies, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer said on Tuesday.

The statement suggests that Israel, which according to foreign reports bombed targets in Syria last year to prevent suspected transfers from Assad's arsenal to hostile terrorists, is holding fire as tons of toxins are trucked out, in some cases through war zones not under Assad's control.

"We are not poised for a situation in which a convoy encounters rebels. This is something being addressed by the international forces that are there," the officer told Reuters, referring to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the disarmament process.

He said the organization's role would also prevent Hizbullah, which has fighters in Syria helping Assad in the almost three-year rebellion, from redirecting trucks to Lebanon. "I reckon such a scenario is not possible," said the officer, who declined to be named under military secrecy.

Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by June under a deal worked out by Russia and the United States after the Aug. 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus, which Western nations blamed on Assad forces. The Syrian government blames rebels for the attack.

Around 1,300 tons of Syrian chemical weapons are slated for decommissioning. Some are to be shipped from Latakia port for destruction on a specially converted U.S. vessel. Syria loaded a first batch of chemicals onto a Danish cargo vessel last Tuesday, a week after missing the original Dec. 31 target to ship out all the deadliest chemicals. The OPCW has called on Assad's government to speed up the process. An official contacted by Reuters on Tuesday declined to say whether any further cargoes had been loaded onto ships.

Israel has welcomed the stripping of Syria's chemical arsenal while warning world powers that Damascus could renege. "We are very preoccupied by places [in Syria] where -- perhaps -- the weapons have not been dismantled, and remain, and may end up in Lebanon," the Israeli officer said, without elaborating. "We are looking very closely for this, and we really do not want it to happen."

Regional security sources said that on at least three occasions last year Israel bombed convoys or depots in Syria that it believed held advanced weapons destined for Hizbullah. Israel has not formally confirmed carrying out those raids, which drew retaliation threats from Damascus. While not commenting on specific actions, the Israeli officer acknowledged that intervening militarily now could upset a disarmament campaign coordinated by numerous foreign powers.

"I know that, as of now, no convoy has been harmed. I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I am not preparing for a situation in which I would be the one 'protecting' these convoys," the officer said.

Asked if the possibility of inadvertently harming foreigners accompanying the convoys might stay Israel's hand, the officer said: "Yes, unequivocally. We very much do not want to undermine this process of the chemical weapons being dismantled. It is a dramatic event in terms of Israel's security outlook. It is, without a doubt, an achievement."

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