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Israel Pounds Hamas after 17 Injured in 70-Rocket Barrage

By the Jerusalem Post, YnetNews, DEBKAfile and IsraelNationalNews.com The Israel Air Force retaliated by striking targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday evening after 17 people were treated for injuries resulting from rocket attacks from Gaza against southern Israel. Following the barrages, the IAF struck 12 terror targets including a plant used to manufacture components intended for the construction of tunnels as well as a tunnel for maritime terrorism along Israel's coast. A number of terror targets in several military sites, including weapons and rockets, as well as a military compound that serves as a central logistic warehouse were also hit by IAF jets. Red Alert sirens continued to sound in the South into late in the evening. According to Barzilai Medical Center, six people were treated for body injuries and nine people were treated for shock. Four of the projectiles fell in Sderot. A 34-year-old was in light-to-moderate condition with wounds from glass shards and a 20-year-old was in light condition with injuries to his limbs from Iron Dome shrapnel. Civilians were treated at the scene after suffering from stress, including two pregnant women who started having contractions. Two homes in Sderot were also reportedly hit by the shrapnel and several cars were damaged. Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon reported that MDA medics brought in eight people with light injuries and one man, 54, who sustained moderate injuries and is being operated on. MDA reported that 17 people were injured, many of them were treated for shock as well as three pregnant women who began having labor contractions due to the stress. The rocket fire from Gaza came shortly after an IDF tank struck Hamas posts in Gaza after shots were fired across the border towards civilian engineering vehicles working on the IDF's underground barrier with the coastal enclave. Hamas issued a statement saying: "We are delivering on our promise. The resistance accepted the responsibility to even the playing field with the enemy, and it is succeeding in doing so." According to the IDF, 70 projectiles were launched from the Hamas-run enclave as of late Wednesday night; the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted 11. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman held a security assessment with senior military and defense officials at the IDF Kirya Headquarters in Tel Aviv following the initial rocket barrage. At least one Gazan citizen was reported injured. "Terrorists shot at civilian vehicles that were being used in an effort to construct the barrier around the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip. One vehicle was hit," the IDF said. Earlier on Wednesday, the IDF closed several roads near the Gaza border after warning that it was concerned about a retaliatory attack by Hamas after two of its elite members were killed in an IDF strike on Tuesday. According to the IDF, Route 25 and several other smaller roads were closed after Hamas was identified as having cleared several military positions along the border and threats made by the group. The targets include a tunnel-part and concrete factory, an offensive maritime terror tunnel shaft along the coast and several terror sites in military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip, among them rocket manufacturing facilities and a central logistical military complex. The tunnel-part factory is a site which was intended to be used as a hotel and was overtaken by the Hamas terror organization in 2012. The factory manufactures parts for offensive terror tunnels under civilian disguise. The rocket fire also comes as a senior Hamas official said that UN and Egyptian-mediated cease-fire talks between the terror group and Israel have reached "advanced stages," with a deal expected to be signed soon. "We can say that actions led by the United Nations and Egypt are in advanced stages and we hope it could yield some good from them," Khalil Al-Hayya, deputy Hamas chief in Gaza, told Al Jazeera television. "What is required is for calm to be restored along the border between us and the Zionist enemy (Israel)." A delegation of high-ranking Hamas political leaders, led by the terror group's deputy chairman Saleh al-Arouri, left Gaza on Wednesday after spending the last few days in the strip for talks about a proposed ceasefire agreement with Israel under the auspices of the UN and Egyptian intelligence. On Sunday, Israel's Security Cabinet met to discuss the proposed cease-fire agreement. The Prime Minister's Office released a statement afterward saying that the IDF was ready for any eventuality. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, however, told Ynet on Wednesday he did not think a broad, long-term ceasefire agreement with Hamas in Gaza is in the cards, but allowed that "there may be secret channels that even the ministers aren't aware of yet, and when a proposal arrives, we'll discuss it." DEBKAfile's military sources report that the IDF General Command meeting urgently Wednesday night has little option but to launch a full-scale military operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This would necessitate a ground incursion. It was decided to keep the operation as short as possible, the main goal is to push Hamas back from the Israel border and deliver a blow painful enough for the terrorists to beg for a ceasefire. IDF chiefs hope that this will cure Hamas leaders of the belief that they can dictate the rules of the game, as it has done so far. The generals are taking into account that the rocket barrage will spread across other parts of Israel in the course of the operation. The General Command conference continued into Wednesday night. Despite the cease-fire talks, dozens of fires have ignited following the continued launching of aerial incendiary devices into southern Israel. In response, IDF aircraft have continued to strike the cells launching the devices. Hundreds of such devices have been launched towards Israel since late March when Gazans began weekly protests along the border with Israel. The protests have been called the greatest threat to Israeli security in the region since Operation Protective Edge in 2014, due to the combination of terror tunnels, riots, attempted infiltration and the use of incendiary items. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 158 Gazans have been killed since the start of the weekly "March of Return."

Birthright Co-Founder Charles Bronfman: If Young Jews want to Criticize Israel, They Should Pay Their Own Way

By JTA

Birthright Israel co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Charles Bronfman said that young Jews are free to criticize Israel — but not while enjoying a free trip. "If people want to call Israel names and say bad things about the country, they certainly have the right to free speech. But they don't have the right to do it on our nickel," he told the Israeli daily Haaretz in an interview published Wednesday. His comments come after at least two groups of American Jews visiting Israel on the 10-day trip walked off the tour to join left-wing groups on visits to Palestinians. The walk-offs reportedly were encouraged by IfNotNow, a left-wing American-Jewish group. The young Jews who walked off the trip and some others who remain on them are critical of what they say is Birthright's failure to deal with Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Some have complained that maps handed out to participants do not draw a proper distinction between Israel and the West Bank. Bronfman said in his interview with Haaretz that participants on Birthright could extend their trip and join any group they want or travel on their own to Palestinian areas. "If they want to go to the West Bank or Gaza, they are certainly free to go," he told Haaretz. "What is not fair is making a big tzimmes while the trip is on. Frankly, I just don't think that is fair to their fellow participants." Bronfman expressed concern over improperly marked maps, however, saying he hoped it was a one-time mistake. He noted that the Birthright experience includes four hours devoted to discussing the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, both in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, as impartially as possible. "I don't see the issue not being addressed," he said. Bronfman called the walk-offs a sign of Birthright's success. "If we weren't successful," he said, "we wouldn't have the problem."

Israeli Prison to Join Armageddon's List of Ancient Ruins

By Reuters and Israel Hayom

The end is nigh at Armageddon – at least for an old Israeli prison near the ancient ruins of Megiddo, by tradition the site of the apocalyptic biblical battle between good and evil. Half an hour's drive south of Nazareth, Armageddon is a popular site for the busloads of tourists visiting the sites of the Holy Land. There is also a busy program of excavations. In 2005, work to expand the aging Megiddo Prison uncovered the remains of a third-century Christian prayer hall, including a mosaic referring to "God Jesus Christ." The building with the mosaic was excavated, earlier artifacts found, and the site was covered up under the supervision of archaeologists. Now, after years of legal and bureaucratic delays, the prison is to be relocated, freeing up the site for further exploration potentially as early as 2021. The prospect already has archaeologists excitedly talking about an area they have started to call "Greater Megiddo." "When the Christian prayer hall was first found beneath the prison, we were all excited for one minute," said Matthew Adams, director of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, who has spent years excavating at Megiddo. "And then we realized, "Oh, it's in a maximum security prison, so we'll never actually be able to do anything with it. Now that the government has decided to move this prison, we can explore this really amazing and interesting part of the development of early Christianity in a way that we didn't think we'd be able to." The prison, whose inmates once included Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists, lies a few hundred yards south of Tel Megiddo itself, the ancient mound at which archaeologists have found walls dating back at least 7,000 years. Between the prison and the hill is the largely unexcavated Roman Sixth Legion garrison, thought to have been built by Emperor Hadrian. The name Armageddon is believed to be a corruption of the Hebrew words Har Megiddo – Mount Megiddo. Although small, the hill was the site of numerous ancient battles because it overlooks the Jezreel Valley, across which armies have marched since antiquity towards a pass leading to the Mediterranean. The earliest written reference to Megiddo seems to have been during the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III, who defeated Syrian and Canaanite states there in 1468 BCE. It later fell to the Israelites, and then to the Assyrians in 733 BCE. In 1918, the British military commander Gen. Edmund Allenby routed Turkish forces there, and he later took the title Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and of Felixstowe. But its fame derives principally from the apocalyptic final book of the New Testament, Revelation, which tells of "the battle of that great day of God Almighty. … And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." The current dig at the mound is led by Adams and Professor Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University. "Megiddo was important because it sits on the international road which connects Egypt with Mesopotamia, with Damascus, with Anatolia. So whoever sits here controls the most important road of antiquity in the ancient world," Finkelstein said. Their team has used modern radiocarbon dating and laser-assisted distance measurements to precisely date and record the many layers of history on the tel, including monuments, once thought to have been built in the era of King Solomon. These, Finkelstein says, can now be attributed to the later era of Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Israel in the ninth century BCE. The top priority was to date things accurately. "One way is to date according to biblical verses, and one way is to date according to radiocarbon studies. Biblical verses, with all due respect, are always problematic because there are questions regarding their author, their goals, and the ideology behind the author and so on and so forth." But, he said, "When you work with radiocarbon you are on solid grounds in your dating." Israeli tourist authorities are planning a complex on the site to combine tourism, archaeology, and nature hikes. Targeting Christian evangelicals in particular, they hope to draw 300,000 visitors annually, nearly double the current figure. "A prison of 1,000 dangerous prisoners will be moved and a new complex will be built in order to expose the mosaic and enable people from all over the world to come," Israel Prison Service spokeswoman Nicole Englander said. Standing on Tel Megiddo as he supervised excavations into a Middle Bronze Age site, Adams said the area appears to have been a cultural melting pot two millennia ago, with Jews, Christians and pagan Romans all in the same spot. That suggested interaction between early Christians and the Roman Empire were much more complicated than previously thought. "Typically, we think of the Romans persecuting Christians," he said.


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