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Another Burst of Hamas Rocket Fire, Yet Israel Reopens Gaza Crossings & Releases $300 Million Payout

By DEBKAfile

Israel reopened the Gaza border crossings early Sunday, March 31, although five Palestinian rockets were aimed at the Eshkol district. IDF tanks hit back at Hamas positions in northern and central Gaza. There were no casualties but damage on the Israeli side. Although the usual terrorist and IDF tit-for-tat show goes on – and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar pledged more of the same, only worse – Israel appears to be going forward nevertheless with lavish concessions for Gaza – rewards for what Israel officials are commending as Hamas' "self-restraint" in keeping the March of the Million on Saturday within bounds. DEBKAfile reports exclusively that the Netanyahu government has consented to the UN beginning to draw on the $300 million fund for Gaza Strip's economic development accumulated from donations by different countries. Expenditure on projects will be overseen by Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process. Generous Israeli benefits and Hamas promises make up a new understanding for which the Egyptian mediators are now working on a timetable that DEBKAfile reports as including expansion of the flow of food supplies crossing into the Gaza Strip as well as building materials, which Israel restricted in the past as they were used for terror tunnels. Also, discussions on a maritime line linking Gaza to a port in Cyprus or Egypt is planned; Hamas will halt its attacks on IDF forces defending the border fence; Palestinian rocket fire against Israel will cease; No more explosive balloon assaults; The IDF will exercise restraint against Palestinian "demonstrators" pushing against the border fence. This is taken to mean an end to live fire. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will twist the arm of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to release the funds he has been holding back from the Hamas regime for covering its payroll and Gaza's electricity bills. A permanent Egyptian mission will be established in Gaza City to monitor the new accord's implementation. Its members, high-ranking Egyptian intelligence officers, were present on the ground during the Saturday demonstration. No truce will be announced between Israel and Hamas. At a later date, they will announce that they are reverting to the understandings reached after Defensive Shield, Israel's last major counter-terror operation in Gaza in 2006.

Armed Robbers Steal Medical Cannabis from a Farm in the Galilee

By the Jerusalem Post

The first major medical cannabis robbery was reported in Northern Israel this week, according to the Hebrew business publication Globes. Masked and armed robbers raided a legal medical cannabis farm in the Sea of Galilee area, taking an unknown amount of cannabis. Police are investigating the incident. The event comes as cannabis takes a front-and-center role in the upcoming April 9 election, with parties debating whether to make not only medical cannabis but recreational marijuana legal. Israel recently made substantial reforms in the field of medical cannabis, legalizing its export, and providing an opportunity for more farms to receive permits to grow pot. The global medical cannabis market was valued at $8.3 billion in 2017 and is projected to rise to $28 billion by 2024, according to a report by Energias Market Research. For Israeli companies to tap into the market, they will need both approvals by the Health Ministry and the police. The Zehut Party, led by former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, has based a large portion of its campaign efforts on expressing support for the legalization of cannabis in Israel, which analysts say is what has allowed the group to straddle the 3.25% electoral threshold. Several other political parties expressed their open support for or consideration of legalization, including Likud, Meretz, and Gesher.

Netanyahu Warmly Welcomes Brazil's Bolsonaro in Israel

By VOA News

Israel's prime minister warmly received Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Sunday, on the leader's first state visit to Israel. Binyamin Netanyahu's red carpet welcome for Bolsonaro comes days ahead of a tough re-election bid for the long-time Israeli premier on April 9. The Brazilian president is widely expected during his three-day trip to decide whether to follow President Donald Trump's lead and move the Brazilian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move he has repeatedly promised. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future state. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the eastern sector. The two leaders, wearing matching blue ties as they surveyed an Israeli color guard, touted the forging of closer ties. Netanyahu addressed Bolsonaro as a ``good friend'' and said Israel and Brazil have entered ``a new era'' of relations. The Brazilian leader opened his speech after landing with the words "I love Israel" in Hebrew. "My government is firmly decided to strengthen the partnership between Brazil and Israel," Bolsonaro added. Netanyahu has faced criticism for courting the friendship of authoritarian leaders, such as Hungary's Victor Orban, Russia's Vladimir Putin, and the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, in his push for closer ties around the globe. Bolsonaro has drawn criticism for making disparaging remarks about gays, women, indigenous groups and blacks during his 28-year career as a Brazilian congressman. Rights groups have expressed concern about the new administration's hardline approach to security and protection for police officers who commit crimes. Israeli activists protested outside the airport after Bolsonaro landed, raising a rainbow flag with the words "The Holy Land doesn't want homophobes here" in Portuguese.

Israel's Tourism Industry Courting Visitors from China


Tourism to Israel is on the rise, and if last year's numbers – 4,120,800, to be exact – are any indication, this year may prove to be even more successful. While for years, many tourists to Israel arrived from Western countries, the numbers are changing. Now, more tourists from countries in the East, especially China, have discovered Israel. If this trend continues, Israel's incoming tourism industry could witness greatly accelerated growth. With a population of nearly 1.4 billion, China is a gold mine in terms of tourism potential, and Israel has already hopped on the bandwagon. A conference held this week at the Dan Jerusalem Hotel, titled "Made for China," focused on developing ties between the two countries and finding ways to encourage Chinese tourism to Israel. Peter Phang, from tourism marketing agency BrandStory, said that to the Chinese, China is considered the "middle" of the world, "so to us," he joked, "Israel is a Western country." He highlighted that some provinces in China have more than 20 million people; thus, the marketing potential Israel has in some of these areas is enormous. Phang noted that while China is one market and one country, it is also a very big market – as large as Europe. "Some municipalities in China are so large," he said, they have a gross domestic product "equal to that of Australia. This demonstrates the scale of the Chinese market." Incoming tourists from huge countries like China would be a tremendous boon to Israel. The data is showing signs of improvement, and Israel is fast becoming an extremely popular tourist destination. In fact, at the end of last year, international market research firm EuroMonitor named Jerusalem the fastest-growing tourism destination in the world. Phang emphasized that there "is no one size fits all when it comes to China. You have to do many things to market Israel to the diverse Chinese population." Hainan Airlines, which just launched a new route from Shenzhen, China, to Tel Aviv, also has direct flights to Tel Aviv from Shanghai and Beijing. China Eastern also plans to launch its direct flight to Tel Aviv, making it the third Chinese airline, including Sichuan Airlines, to offer direct flights to Israel. This introduction of more flight routes from China to Israel has had a market impact on tourism to Israel and will continue to do so if this trend continues. The Tourism Ministry reported a general 14% increase in incoming tourism over 2017 and a whopping 42% increase over 2016. The Economic Research Department of the Israel Hotels Association recently published data for February 2019 on hotel stays compared with the same period over the past two years, and the evidence is clear: Incoming tourism to Israel is decidedly on the rise, and Chinese tourists are helping make it happen. Other speakers also acknowledged huge potential China holds for incoming Israeli tourism. Roy Kriezman, the Tourism Ministry attaché in southern China, said "tourism from China to Israel began to rise significantly only in 2016, thanks to new direct flights to Israel that were launched from various regions in China."The capacity of passengers is huge, and many of the planes still have plenty of room," he said. Kriezman noted that there are four main categories of Chinese tourists, all of whom want to discover Israel. The first category includes older, leisure tourists. They have already been to the main cities around the world, and they want to find a new, mysterious and exciting place. The second category is the millions of Chinese Christians who want to come to Israel on pilgrimage. These are huge groups that can easily take over an entire hotel during their visit. The third category represents the many businessmen and women who arrive in Israel, usually for just a few days. The fourth category includes those who arrive as part of an official delegation. Kriezman concluded by encouraging everyone, on behalf of the Tourism Ministry, to make efforts in the Chinese market. Phang recommended to Israeli travel agents and tour operators to "be open." Make the connections, exchange ideas with counterparts in China and discover ways to bring more Chinese individuals and families to Israel, he encouraged. He also said businesses need to "invest" or "engage" in dialogue and relationships with tourism-industry representatives in China so that they can better understand the needs of these groups. This collaboration, he hinted, could lead to great success.

Rare Discovery in the City of David

A rare and exciting discovery: A bulla (seal impression) and a 2,600-year-old stamp bearing Hebrew names were uncovered in the City of David. The artifacts were discovered inside a public building that was destroyed during the destruction of the First Temple and was uncovered in archaeological excavations of the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem. The dig was conducted by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University. According to Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority who were responsible for the dig, these special artifacts were found inside a large public building, that was destroyed in the sixth century BCE - likely during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Large stone debris, burnt wooden beams, and numerous charred pottery shards were discovered in the building, all indications that they had survived an immense fire. The importance of this building can be discerned, among other things, from its size, the finely cut ashlar stones from which it was built and the quality of the architectural elements found in the layers of destruction - for example, remnants of a polished plaster floor, which had collapsed and caved into the floor below. The stamp and bulla, which are about one centimeter in size, were deciphered by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Center for the Study of Ancient Jerusalem, who, according to the script, dates them to the middle of the seventh century to the beginning of the sixth century BCE. The seal impression, dated to the First Temple period, features the words: "(belonging) to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King" (LeNathan-Melech Eved HaMelech). The name Nathan-Melech appears once in the Bible, in the second book of Kings 23:11, where he is described as an official in the court of King Josiah, who took part in the religious reform that the king was implementing: "And he took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entrance of the house of the Lord, by the chamber of Nathan-Melech the officer, which was in the precincts; and he burned the chariots of the sun with fire." The title "Servant of the King" (Eved HaMelech) appears often in the Bible to describe a high-ranking official close to the king. This title appears on other stamps and seal impressions that were found in the past. This seal impression is the first archaeological evidence of the name Biblical Nathan-Melech. Dr. Mendel-Geberovich notes that the fact that this official was mentioned by his first name alone indicates that he was known to all, and there was no need to add his family lineage. According to Mendel-Geberovich, "Although it is not possible to determine with complete certainty that the Nathan-Melech who is mentioned in the Bible was, in fact, the owner of the stamp, it is impossible to ignore some of the details that link them together." Bullae were small pieces of clay impressed by personal seals, used in ancient times to sign letters. While the parchment that they sealed didn't survive the fires that devastated ancient Jerusalem, the bullae, which are made of ceramic-like material, were preserved, leaving evidence of the correspondence and those behind them. A stamp-seal was also in discovered the same place, made of bluish agate stone, engraved with the name - "(belonging) to Ikar son of Matanyahu" (LeIkar Ben Matanyahu). According to Dr. Mendel-Geberovich, "The name Matanyahu appears both in the Bible and on additional stamps and bullae already unearthed. However, this is the first reference to the name "Ikar," which was unknown until today." She believes that despite the literal meaning of Ikar which is a farmer, it most likely refers to a private individual with that name as opposed to a description of his occupation. It is still unclear who this person was. Private stamps were used to sign documents and were often set in signet rings carried by their owners. In ancient times these stamps noted the identity, lineage and status of their owners. Both of these artifacts will be presented in full in the Israel Exploration Journal, the archaeological journal published by the Israel Exploration Society.

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