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Netanyahu: In Wake of Deadly Gaza Border Riots, Nazi Flags Waving

By Israel Hayom & IsraelNationalNews.com

IDF troops on Sunday evening located two explosive devices placed by terrorists who had earlier infiltrated Israel through the security fence near northern Gaza. "The IDF views with great severity any attempt to damage the security fence or security infrastructure and will not allow the region to become a combat zone. Hamas is responsible for all events originating from the Gaza Strip and its consequences," the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in a statement. On Sunday afternoon, following the infiltration from Gaza, the IDF launched an artillery barrage on terrorist positions in the region. The incident occurred after several armed terrorists on the Israel-Gaza frontier crossed the Gaza security fence and entered Israeli territory. It is unclear if there were any casualties as a result of the Israeli artillery fire. Nearly 20,000 Palestinian rioters burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli forces at the border between Gaza and Israel on Friday, with a number of protesters attempting to infiltrate Israeli territory under the cover of mass border demonstrations, taking place for the second consecutive week. Nine Palestinians were killed and 491 were reportedly wounded – 33 of them seriously during Friday's clashes, including an alleged Palestinian journalist. Hundreds of Palestinian on Saturday attended the funeral of the journalist who was killed while covering mass protests along the Israel-Gaza Strip border the previous day. Yasser Murtaja, 30, a cameraman for Palestinian Ain Media, was one of the Some 20,000 Palestinians who participated in a second Hamas-backed demonstration on the border Friday. Witnesses described the area in which Murtaja and others were shot as a chaotic scene in which protesters torched large piles of tires, engulfing the area in black smoke that was meant to shield them from Israeli snipers. Footage showed that visibility was limited and the faces of some of the activists were covered with black soot. They added that Murtaja was over 100 meters (330 feet) from the border, wearing a flak jacket marked "press" and holding his camera when he was shot in an exposed area just below the armpit. He was rushed to Shifa hospital in Gaza where he died of his wounds several hours later. The military released a statement saying, "The IDF does not intentionally target journalists. The circumstances in which journalists were allegedly hit by IDF fire are not familiar to the military and are being investigated." Murtaja, the co-founder of Ain media, had in the past done projects that included aerial drone videos for foreign media outlets such as the BBC and Al Jazeera English. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Saturday that the riots on the border were "a terrorist parade in which Hamas operatives disguised as civilians attempted to harm Israeli citizens. This man – a cameraman or not – if you send drones to fly over Israeli troops you are placing yourself in danger. "We have seen dozens of cases in which Hamas used vehicles disguised as Red Crescent ambulances. They [Hamas operatives] also disguised themselves as journalists. We will not take any chances," he said. The Palestinian Journalists Association said it will pursue legal action against the IDF over Murtaja's death. The Union of Journalists in Israel has called on IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to order an investigation into Murtaja's death and reports that Israeli troops opened fire on other journalists as well. "In a democratic state, the military is not supposed to harm journalists doing their job. We want to know whether the special treatment that should be afforded to members of the media is included in briefings ahead of such operations and whether the soldiers who participated in the operation yesterday [Friday] were briefed on the proper treatment of journalists," the organization said. Murtaja's colleagues said he was not affiliated with Hamas or any other terrorist group. While his funeral was devoid of Hamas symbols usually seen at terrorists' funerals, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh attended the funeral. "The March of Return is a battle of truth and awareness. Yasser held his camera to direct the arrows of truth to convey the image of the besieged people of Gaza," Haniyeh said. At the funeral, Murtaja's body was draped in a Palestinian flag with his flak jacket reading "press" placed upon him as he was carried through the streets of Gaza. The drone he had used for shooting footage of Gaza hovered above to film his funeral. The IDF attributes the change from the previous week due to several factors: First, the number of protesters decreased by about half, from 40,000 the previous week to 20,000 this week - an apparent failure from Hamas' perspective. Second, the Israeli forces learned important lessons from the initial demonstration pertaining to the use of live fire and snipers, which they implemented the following week. And third, Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza appear to be sufficiently deterred by the IDF. "Hamas is deterred and is measuring its steps," IDF Spokesperson Col. Ronen Manelis told reporters. "We promised a quiet [Passover] holiday, and that was the case." Although IDF officials say the event was an overall success from the army's perspective, the main clash still lies ahead. Another riot is planned for this coming weekend under the banner "Firebomb Friday." Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was attending a Mimouna celebration in central Israel Saturday, touched on the Gaza border violence and the allegations of human rights violations against Israel. "The IDF is protecting us against the imposters," he said. "They wave a Nazi flag in Gaza and in the same breath talk about human rights." GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir commended the troops for their actions and said, "They carried out their mission in an impressive manner." Zamir is heading the IDF's border defense against the protests together with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai and Gaza Division Commander Col. Yehuda Fuchs. "What we ultimately saw was a violent public disturbance which provided cover for attempts to mobilize terrorist attacks," Zamir added. "Hamas is waging a large campaign of manipulation, and these manipulations are not lost on us." The IDF attributes the change to several factors: First, the number of protesters decreased by about half, from 40,000 the previous week to 20,000 this week - an apparent failure from Hamas' perspective. Second, the Israeli forces learned important lessons from the initial demonstration pertaining to the use of live fire and snipers, which they implemented the following week. And third, Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza appear to be sufficiently deterred by the IDF. "Hamas is deterred and is measuring its steps," IDF Spokesperson Col. Ronen Manelis told reporters. "We promised a quiet [Passover] holiday, and that was the case." During the riots, the Palestinian protesters tried setting fire to the border fence, they tried crossing it and they rolled burning tires toward it. Mostly they burned thousands of tires, which covered the contact points along the border in a cloud of black smoke. To contend with the smoke tactic, IDF units worked in tandem with the fire department, with firefighting crews deployed along the border with water cannons and ventilation systems to push the tire smoke toward Gaza. IDF officials have characterized the smokescreen tactic as a flop as it failed to hamper the troops, the black smoke didn't hinder the snipers and the toxic smoke didn't reach civilian communities in Israel. "The IDF fulfilled its mission," Manelis declared. "The border was not breached, Israel's sovereignty was not compromised and there were no Israeli casualties." "[The Palestinians'] idea was to cover the border fence in a smokescreen. We identified eight attempts to throw explosive devices at the fence, several attempts to throw firebombs and also attempts to cut the fence," he went on to say. "I called the smokescreen a 'gimmick,' and it turned out to be a trivial matter. They were unsuccessful with it, and the only thing it did was to make breathing difficult for the people of Gaza and to harm the environment. The only people who approached the border were paid to do so, or were terrorists." Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, spoke to the residents of Gaza in a similar vein. "The time has come to wake up and see the truth behind the black smoke that quickly dissipated," he wrote on COGAT's official Facebook page. "The smoke came and went and did absolutely nothing to help you. Just like the fighting Hamas has forced on Gaza, which still has not led to its rehabilitation, the 'Friday of burning tires' was meant to blind Gazans while Hamas continues to destroy Gaza," he wrote. "Hamas is using you." The IDF is now bracing for this Friday's "firebomb" protest. "Hamas activists will help collect and prepare thousands of firebombs that protesters will throw at the border fence, with the goal of burning it down," a senior Hamas official told Israel Hayom. Most of the leaders of the terrorist organization who attended the previous demonstration were absent Friday. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, however, threatened the protests would continue on a weekly basis. Speaking to a cheering crowd in one of the protest camps Friday, Sinwar vowed that a border breach is coming. The world should "wait for our great move when we penetrate the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa," Sinwar said, referring to the Muslim shrine in Jerusalem. He was interrupted several times by the crowd, who chanted, "We are going to Jerusalem, millions of martyrs!" and "God bless you Sinwar!" Senior IDF officers, however, remained nonplussed. "We won't let Gaza turn into Bil'in," one officer said, referring to the West Bank town where Palestinians often demonstrate near the security fence. Arab news outlets reported over the weekend that senior Egyptian officials have proposed a solution to Hamas leaders to end the weekly border riots. According to the reports, the Egyptians offered the following deal: Stop the protests and in exchange, the Rafah border crossing with Egypt will be opened to Palestinians and goods. An Egyptian security delegation is expected to visit Gaza in the coming days to begin discussing the issue with the terrorist organization. To encourage Hamas to accept the deal, the reports said, Saudi Arabia has echoed the Egyptian request. Moreover, Riyadh has reportedly agreed to vouch for Cairo's promise to open the Rafah crossing more frequently. At present, only humanitarian goods are allowed to cross between Gaza and Egypt. At the United Nations, Secretary General António Guterres urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint, said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. He said U.N. Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov had been in touch with Israeli and Palestinian officials to reinforce "the need to allow people to demonstrate peacefully." Mladenov stressed the need to ensure that "excessive force is not used, and the need to ensure that children are not deliberately put in harm's way," Dujarric said. For a second week in a row, the United States blocked a U.N. Security Council statement supporting the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully and endorsing Guterres' call for an independent investigation into the deadly protests in Gaza. Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York Friday evening that 14 of the 15 council nations agreed to the statement, but the U.S., Israel's closest ally, objected. A White House envoy urged Palestinians to stay away from the fence. Jason Greenblatt said the United States condemns "leaders and protesters who call for violence or who send protesters – including children – to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed."

Israeli Chief Rabbi: Jews have `moral obligation' to end Syrian `genocide'

By JTA

Israel's Sephardic chief rabbi said Jews have a "moral obligation" to end the "cruel genocide" taking place in Syria. Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef was responding on Sunday to reports that at least 150 men, women and children in the Syrian town of Douma, east of capital Damascus, were killed in a chemical attack by government forces. "I've said it before and I'll say it again, a cruel genocide is taking place in Syria, including women and children, with weapons of mass destruction," Yosef said in a statement on Sunday. "There is a moral obligation not to remain silent and to try to stop the massacre. As Jews we have been through genocide, as Jews whose Torah is a light to the nations, it is our moral obligation to try to prevent the massacre. This is an obligation no less than the moral obligation was to destroy the nuclear reactor in Syria." Video footage released online showed dead men, women and children lying on floors with white foam around their mouths, signifying possible nerve agents. Other footage showed full clinics where workers were hosing down patients and treating them with respirators, according to the New York Times. Douma is controlled by a rebel group called the Army of Islam, and is the last holdout in the Damascus area. They Syrian government has expressed its desire to completely rid the area of rebels, the Times reported. Syrian state news media denied that any chemical weapons had been used, according to the report.

Amid Israel-Poland Tensions, Thousands to Attend March of the Living

By Israel Hayom

Tens of thousands of people were expected to take part in this year's March of the Living on Thursday, which will mark the 30th anniversary of the annual event in Poland. The march, held every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a 3-kilometer (2-mile) walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. Israel's President Reuven Rivlin will lead the march and will be joined by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Shin Bet security agency chief Nadav Argaman. Israel's Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau will speak at the event. This year's march will be held under a cloud of recent tensions between Israel and Poland over the European country's controversial Holocaust law. Under the new law, anyone who suggests "publicly and against the facts" that the Polish state was complicit in Nazi Germany's crimes can face up to three years in prison. Many in Israel have criticized the law as a Polish attempt to evade responsibility for crimes against Jews during the Holocaust. Polish President Andrzej Duda was expected to take part in the event and deliver a speech at the main ceremony at the end of the march. More than 12,000 youths were slated to arrive in Poland in 110 delegations from 41 countries, including from Argentina, Canada, Chile, the U.S., Poland, the U.K. and Morocco. For the first time, a delegation from Japan will also join the march. Ever since the first March of the Living event in 1988, more than 260,000 people from 52 countries have silently marched the 3-kilometer stretch of train tracks leading to Auschwitz-Birkenau to commemorate the greatest loss in Jewish and human history. Throughout its 30-year history, prime ministers, Knesset members, IDF chiefs of staff, presidents, cabinet ministers, intellectuals and cultural leaders have taken part in the event. "Six torches in memory of the 6 million who were murdered will be lit on the ruins of the Birkenau death camp this year, and a seventh torch will be lit to mark Israel's 70th anniversary," said Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of March of the Living International. "In a world where anti-Semitism is only getting worse, where xenophobia is growing stronger, our educational messages are etched into the youth and will foster a better, more tolerant world," he added.

Thousands Attracted to Jerusalem Fire Rite Celebrating Jesus' Resurrection

By Israel Hayom

Thousands of Christians gathered in Jerusalem on Saturday for an ancient fire ceremony that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. In a ritual dating back at least 1,200 years, they crowded into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. During the annual ceremony, top Eastern Orthodox clerics enter the Edicule, the small chamber marking the site of Jesus' tomb. They then emerge to reveal candles said to be miraculously lit with "holy fire" as a message to the faithful from heaven. The flame's source is a closely guarded secret. Orthodox Christians will celebrate Easter on Sunday.


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