Tuesday, February 25, 2020

From Ian:

Avi Issacharoff: Despite attempt to change rules with Syria strikes, Israel’s Gaza policy failing
The latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group has not yet ended, but already there are a few things that stand out as different from previous rounds.

Syria commanders no longer immune
Israel may have chosen to strike various targets in the Gaza Strip, including rocket-launching cells, but the main response was far away, on the Syrian front, where many PIJ targets near Damascus were hit.

This is a surprising step, designed to make PIJ decision-makers think twice and thrice before attempting another attack. The military and the government are trying to set up a new equation by which escalation with Israel will hurt not only Gaza but also PIJ leaders in Syria, who have thus far enjoyed a degree of immunity from Israeli strikes.

This may not be the first time Israel attacked PIJ targets in Syria, but this time it is a direct reaction to rockets launched at Israel.

PIJ is doing quite a bit to lead to this escalation. The violence began Sunday early morning with the attempt to place a bomb next to the border fence and continued after the terrorist was killed and his body was dragged back to Israel by a military bulldozer. After a brief lull, the violence renewed Monday afternoon.

Even by its own standard, PIJ went overboard with its response, considering it all started with a cell trying to lay an explosive device. Having launched dozens of rockets into the night and on Monday, it is clear the organization seeks to drag the whole of Gaza into war — despite this being one of the better periods the Strip has experienced recently in terms of Israeli concessions.

Rocket attacks target Israeli south despite reported ceasefire
Terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired rockets at the city of Sderot and nearby communities on Monday night, some 20 minutes after a ceasefire was reportedly due to go into effect at 10 p.m.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from the attack. Residents of the area reported seeing multiple Iron Dome interceptor missiles fired into the sky.

Over the course of Sunday and Monday, some 90 rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip — most of them by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group — and approximately 90 percent of those heading toward populated areas were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

In response to the attacks, the Israeli military launched multiple rounds of retaliatory air raids against Islamic Jihad bases in the Gaza Strip, as well as one airstrike on a squad it said was preparing to launch rockets, injuring four.

Just before the ceasefire was meant to begin, terrorists in the Strip also fired a number of rockets at the Eshkol region of southern Israel. One rocket struck inside a community in the region, causing no injuries, but light damage to a nearby building, which was hit by shrapnel.

In light of the ongoing attacks from Gaza, the military ordered schools to remain canceled Tuesday in Gaza periphery communities, including the city of Ashkelon, representing some 55,000 students.
‘I Shake in My Hands and Legs’: Child From Israel’s South Describes Rocket Trauma
A child from Israel’s south recounted on Monday the traumatic fear and terror she was facing as rocket fire from the Gaza Strip pounded the region once again, saying the air raid sirens made her “shake in my hands and legs.”

Dozens of rockets have been fired from Hamas-ruled Gaza into southern Israel over the past two days. While there have been no casualties thus far, the psychological and economic impact is severe.

Schools were closed in the Gaza border area on Monday, as were main highways and train lines.

Those businesses still open had almost no customers, as residents stayed in their homes close to bomb shelters and fortified rooms.

The IDF has undertaken retaliatory attacks against Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which it blamed for the rocket fire, in Gaza and Syria.

Roni, an eight-year-old second grader from the border city of Sderot, which has absorbed thousands of rocket strikes over the past two decades, was in a store with her grandmother buying a Purim costume when the warning sirens sounded.

“When I was with grandma in the store, a red alert caught us,” she told Israeli news site N12. “Immediately we got under the table that was in the store. I was under stress.”

“Every red alert makes me shake in my hands and legs. Every boom terrifies me,” she said.

“My big sister has a bat mitzvah soon and I hope there won’t be another red alert,” Roni added.

“At school they try to give us tools to deal with the fear with the help of games, and I hope that when I’m grown up I can be a dancer without sirens in the background,” she said.

Mubarak, the ‘Pharaoh’ Toppled by the Arab Spring, Dies at 91
Hosni Mubarak, who died on Tuesday, never expected to be president. But when a very public assassination thrust the former bomber pilot into the job, he made it his mission never to give it up.

His story became Egypt’s story for the next 30 years until, finally, his people found they could write it themselves, in a 2011 Arab Spring revolution that consigned him to history.

An unremarked vice president to Anwar Sadat, he was a stopgap in the anxious days of 1981 after Sadat was gunned down beside him at a military parade. Few thought he would last.

Yet slowly, surviving attempts on his own life, he became “Pharaoh,” presiding over decades of stagnation and oppression and offering his people a choice: Mubarak or mayhem.

Many believed him, not just in Egypt. US administrations showered him — and the biggest army in the Middle East — with billions of dollars in gratitude for his loyalty to Sadat’s Cold War switch of allegiance and peace with Israel.

But it was his struggles with the Islamists — who by killing Sadat handed power accidentally to a man who would spend 30 years suppressing them — which defined his politics.

Yet to the question of how Egyptians should be governed in the future, he never had an answer beyond “Mubarak” and always refused to indicate a successor. Washington expected him to go on rigging elections till he died, when his son Gamal might take over.

“Nobody imagines that we can press a button and freedoms will arrive. Otherwise it would lead the country to chaos and that would be a danger to people,” Mubarak once said.

Mubarak died aged 91 on Tuesday after undergoing surgery, state television said.
Netanyahu expresses ‘deep sorrow’ over death of ‘personal friend’ Mubarak
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday eulogized former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who died earlier in the day at the age of 91 in a Cairo hospital.

“On behalf of the citizens and government of Israel, I would like to express deep sorrow on the passing of President Hosni Mubarak,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“President Mubarak, my personal friend, was a leader who led his people to peace and security, to peace with Israel. I met with him many times. I was impressed by his commitment; we will continue to follow this common path.”

Netanyahu added that he sends condolences to Egypt’s current president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as well as to Mubarak’s family and to the Egyptian people.

The Israeli prime minister was one of the first international leaders to comment on Mubarak’s passing.

Israel’s embassy in Cairo took to Twitter to express “great sadness” at the former president’s death.
David Singer: Voter apathy threatens reunion of Judea and Samaria with Israel
President Trump’s Peace Plan released on 28 January 2020 recognizes Israeli sovereignty being extended into parts of Judea and Samaria whilst recognizing the creation of a 22nd Arab State in the residue for the first time in recorded history.

Rejection of Trump’s Plan by the Arab League on 1 February has led to the formation of a joint American-Israel Mapping Committee which is expected to produce a map in two months designating the areas of Judea and Samaria where Israeli sovereignty can be extended immediately.

Gantz has not embraced Trump’s Plan with the same enthusiasm as Netanyahu – choosing to maintain the existing status quo in Judea and Samaria for an indefinite period of time.

Had Gantz and Netanyahu agreed – voter apathy would not have mattered. Both major political parties would have been locked in to immediately implementing sovereignty in Judea and Samaria with America’s approval. Lack of unanimity demands condemnation by Jews worldwide.

The portents for another low voter turnout have been signalled by the announcement that only 66% of eligible Israeli diplomats, members of official delegations and their families abroad have voted – a decline from the 69.5% turnout in the September 2019 election.

Hopefully the historic significance of these elections will generate a much larger local turnout of at least 75-80%. The future of the Jewish People’s heartland deserves this level of minimum participation from those Jews and Arabs blessed to have been chosen to make this momentous decision.

For Third Time in Row, Netanyahu and Gantz Race Towards an Inconclusive Finish Line
Both Likud, and Blue and White, are fighting for the votes of the undecided in the right-wing sector. Blue and White’s message is focusing on the fact that Netanyahu cannot run the country while he has to be in court for his trial on corruption charges, which begins March 17.

Likud has been responding by declaring that even while in trial, Netanyahu can do a better job than Gantz. Likud has also promised a series of action items should they maintain the premiership, including moving forward with US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan; further construction in the settlements and Jerusalem; and even erasing the criminal records of Israelis convicted of possessing or using marijuana.

Complicating matter for Blue and White is the decision by acting state attorney Dan Eldad to open a criminal probe into Fifth Dimension, a now closed intelligence company that was chaired by Benny Gantz, over allegations of illegalities in securing a contract with the Israeli police. While Gantz is not a suspect in the case, Netanyahu has succeeded in convincing undecided swing voters that the Blue and White leader is not as clean as has been portrayed. In response, Blue and White has been contesting the matter with declarations about their zero-tolerance policy for corruption and their legislative plans to support this.

Despite all the herculean efforts on both sides to garner more votes, unless Netanyahu succeeds in bringing 61 seats to the right-wing religious bloc—regardless of who wins more votes—neither he nor Gantz has the ability to reach a majority.

This could mean—the expense and patience of Israeli voters notwithstanding—that a strong likelihood exists that the Jewish state will head to a fourth election, most likely to be held in September.
Netanyahu says authorizing 3,500 settler homes in West Bank's E1
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he plans to authorize the construction of 3,500 homes in an undeveloped area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement known as E1.

"We are building up Jerusalem and the outskirts of Jerusalem. I gave an immediate directive, to deposit plans to build of 3,500 housing units in E1," Netanyahu said.

The US has prevented the construction of that Ma’aleh Adumim neighborhood since 1994, out of fear that it would harm the territorial integrity of a future Palestine state. Construction of that neighborhood has long been considered a redline by the US and the international community, particularly the European Union.

Netanyahu had pledged to advance building in E1 after UNESCO recognized Palestine as a member state, but he never made good on that pledge.

Netanyahu made the announcement on Tuesday at the Beersheba Conference in Jerusalem, where he spent close to an hour defending his record as a right-wing leader and his decision to not immediately apply sovereignty to all the West Bank settlements.
PM orders 12 illegal outposts be hooked up to power grid, 8 days before election
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Sunday ordered that 12 illegal outposts in the West Bank be connected to the state’s official power grid in the premier’s latest gesture to settlers just eight days before the March 2 elections.

Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ronen Peretz, wrote in a letter to the Defense Ministry’s adviser on settlement affairs, Avi Roeh, that the dozen wildcat hilltop communities handpicked for the upgrade “were established many years ago on [what is considered] state land, often times with the government’s encouragement and out of security considerations.”

Peretz added that the government is also in the process of legalizing many of the over 100 outposts in the West Bank. But in the meantime, “these residents find themselves spending many hours without basic living conditions such as electricity and water,” the Peretz lamented.

“This harsh reality poses a real security threat when all outposts are in complete darkness during the night,” he said.

While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, sometimes on private Palestinian land.
PMW: Abbas' deception at the UN: PA claims to recognize Israel, yet message to Palestinians is that all of Israel is "Palestine"
Abbas claims to UN: “We recognize Israel”

Yet on the same day, Abbas' deputy to Palestinians: All Israel is “Palestine”

Political strategy: “Stages Plan”
Senior Fatah official says Fatah's goal is “Palestine” replacing Israel: “Palestine” on the 1967 borders is “an intermediate statement”

Media: Official PA daily crossword puzzle teaches the Galilee in northern Israel is in “Palestine”

Education: Activists to distribute the PA’s map of “Palestine” that erases all of Israel in Palestinian schools
Consistent with Palestinian Authority policy, there is one message for the Palestinian street and another for the world. Since US President Trump revealed his Middle East peace plan, Palestinian leaders have intensified their message to Palestinians that they will never accept a “Palestine” that does not replace all of the State of Israel. At the same time, PA and Fatah Chairman Mahmoud Abbas assured the UN Security council that the Palestinians “recognize Israel:”
Abbas: “In 1993 we signed the Oslo Accords, and we are committed to the Oslo Accords – with all of its details and all of its clauses. We have also recognized Israel and Israel has recognized us. We recognize Israel – in the Oslo [Accords].” [Official PA TV, Feb. 11, 2020]

On the same day that Abbas reminded the UN Security Council and the world of the PLO’s recognition of Israel in 1993, his Fatah deputy, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, was busy talking to the Palestinian street. At a PA event protesting Trump’s Middle East peace plan and expressing support for Abbas and his mission at the UN, Al-Aloul held up the PA’s map of “Palestine” that replaces all of Israel and shouted:
“This is Palestine.”

The PA’s Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh was also present at the event, and in fact he is the one who uploaded the video of Al-Aloul denying Israel’s existence to his personal Facebook page:

JCPA: UN Human Rights Council Releases Blacklist of Companies Involved in Israeli Settlements
Business Activity in the Settlements Is Not Illegal

While this submission does not analyze the status of the territories that came under Israel’s control in 1967 and the Israeli settlements there, it is to be noted that according to international law, as observed by experts and recent national European judgments, business activity in the settlements is not illegal.

James Crawford, a judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), wrote in 2012, before his nomination to the ICJ, an opinion, acknowledging that: “ … a private sector entity or person does not bear any international legal responsibility for aiding or assisting the unlawful settlement program nor for ensuring that the people of Palestine can exercise their right to self-determination…”21

Judicial decisions rendered in recent years by European national courts in lawsuits against Israel and third-country business in the West Bank supported the position that international law did not forbid business activity in occupied territories.22

Clearly, although the recent report released by the OHCHR does not accuse the companies of violating international law, the database is the first-ever international attempt to list corporate activities in disputed territories. Out of more than 100 territorial disputes in the world today, including Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus, and Crimea annexed by the Russians, the UN chose only to blacklist companies “related to the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The HRC has never before asked such a list to scrutinize business enterprises and rightly so. The HRC cannot tell companies where or where they should not operate, and it is left for the company to decide.23

In conclusion, the Arab-Israeli conflict, including all the permanent status issues, among them settlements and borders, can only be dealt with and determined between the parties themselves, as part of direct bilateral negotiations, as agreed upon in the Oslo Accords.24 As such, any attempt of the politicized HRC to pressure Israel to make concessions beyond the negotiating table is useless. The relentless fixation on Israel does not add to the credibility of the HRC. Nor does it help to promote the Palestinians’ interests. It only undermines the prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians in sharp contrast to an agreed negotiating issue between them.

Palestinians and the ICC play a cruel game with international law
The UN dominated the headlines last week when it released a database of 112 companies doing business in the West Bank. The intent was to encourage a boycott. However, the UN database is only a prelude to another, potentially more damaging measure: bringing Israel before the International Criminal Court for purported war crimes.

The ICC is investigating Israel’s conduct during the war it fought against Hamas in 2014, its response to violent protests in 2018-2019, and its building of Jewish communities in the disputed West Bank. In late December 2019, chief ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda found a “reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation” into alleged war crimes committed in territories controlled by Israel.

The Palestinians say they are merely pursuing justice but it is increasingly clear the Palestinians are using the court as a weapon. The Palestinian committee in charge of pursuing the case has 45 members. No less than 10 of them appear to have ties with terrorist groups. In other words, they are affiliated with groups whose raison d’etre is to conduct war crimes.

Ghazi Hamad, a senior official from the Iran-backed terrorist organization Hamas, serves as the spokesperson for the Supreme National Committee (SNC). Hamad has called for “small stabs” rather than large offensives to eliminate Israel. Committee chairperson Saeb Erekat has said that five other members of the committee are also Hamas members.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also enjoys representation in the committee. Designated a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and others, the PFLP gained notoriety in the 1960s and ‘70s for high-profile hijackings and attacks on Israelis. The group assassinated an Israeli minister in 2001 and claimed responsibility for an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue in 2014 that left six dead, including three American rabbis.
Hamas Fails to Curb Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Which Has No Interest in Stabilizing Gaza
For months, the Israeli government has pursued the objective of trying to stabilize the Gaza Strip. It tried to reach new truce understandings with Hamas through indirect negotiations—brokered by the Egyptians and others—and avoid a new war.

But the latest incidents show that the goal of stabilizing Gaza is growing increasingly distant by the day.

On Sunday, Palestinian Islamic Jihad attempted to carry out a border bomb attack, which was foiled successfully by the Israel Defense Forces, when they shot dead the terrorist as he planted the bomb. Outrage spread throughout Gaza when video emerged of an IDF bulldozer removing the assailant’s body from the scene. As a result, some 30 rockets were fired at Israel on Sunday, half of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome and the rest landing in open fields.

On Monday, the IDF launched a series of airstrikes against PIJ after the terror group fired at least 14 rockets against Israel. The border bomb attack and rocket fire are just the latest signs of how untenable the Gazan situation is becoming.

There are a few reasons for this. First among them is the fact that Hamas—Gaza’s ruling regime and its largest terrorist army—is unable or unwilling to constrain PIJ, the second-largest armed faction.
Israel-Gaza Ceasefire Takes Hold After Two-Day Flare-Up
A ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the United Nations took hold on the Israel-Gaza border on Tuesday after two days of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.

Islamic Jihad had fired 80 rockets towards Israeli communities along the Gaza border since Sunday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said, while Israel attacked sites in Gaza and Syria that killed three members of the Iran-backed organization.

No casualties were reported on the Israeli side of the frontier and many of the rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system.

The violence came a week before an Israeli election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term in office after two inconclusive votes in the past year.

The frontier fell quiet early on Tuesday, after a Palestinian official said Israel and Islamic Jihad had reached a “reciprocal and simultaneous ceasefire” mediated by Egypt and the United Nations.

“This round is over and Palestinian resistance promised its people that every act of aggression by the Zionist occupation would be met by a reaction from the resistance,” Khader Habib, a senior Islamic Jihad official, told Reuters.
Washington reacts to recent wave of rocket attacks in Israel
Political figures and organizations both on the Left and the Right reacted on Monday to the latest round of escalation in which the Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired over 100 rockets at Israel over 24 hours.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) shared a report about a rocket that hit the city of Sderot, landing next to a children's playground, tweeting: "This is wrong. This is cowardly. This is disgusting. This is something every single one of my colleagues in Congress should be able to agree upon – that Israeli children should not have to live their lives in fear of terrorist rockets raining down on them."

Congressman Ted Deutch (Florida-22nd District), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, said in a statement: "Israelis and Palestinians do have the right to live in peace and security. The rocket attacks from Palestinian Islamic Jihad against Israel threaten the security of innocent Israelis and Palestinians. I strongly condemn these ongoing attacks."

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement as well. "We are deeply concerned by dozens of rockets fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad from Gaza at southern Israeli cities and towns," the organization tweeted. "Our thoughts are with those under attack, and we hope the situation de-escalates quickly."

The progressive Jewish group J Street reacted as well. It said in a statement that the organization is "deeply concerned by the latest fighting between Israel and the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), which over the past 24 hours has launched a barrage of rocket attacks toward the Israeli South – while Israeli forces have responded with air strikes in the Gaza Strip and Syria.

Abbas rejects resignation of senior official tasked with outreach to Israelis
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the resignation of a top official tasked with reaching out to Israelis, several members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society said on Monday.

Mohammmed al-Madani, the head of the PLO committee, offered Abbas his resignation on Saturday after gatherings of Israelis and Palestinians that the body organized earlier in February faced fierce criticism, mostly on social media.

Abbas informed Madani of his decision to turn down his resignation at a meeting with members of the committee at the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah on Monday.

“The president told Madani that he would not accept his resignation,” Ashraf al-Ajrami, a member of the committee and a former PA minister, said in a phone call. “Madani agreed to stay in his position and he left the meeting reassured and encouraged.”

Madani, a Fatah Central Committee member, has served as the head of the committee since its establishment in 2012 after the Palestinians attained non-member observer state status at the United Nations.

During the meeting on Monday, Abbas told members of the committee that he “salutes” them and that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership would not accept any person “belittling” them.

PreOccupiedTerritory: Palestinians To China: Have You Tried Fighting Coronavirus With Terrorism? (satire)
Leaders of the Palestinian national liberation movement repeated their offer offer of assistance this week to the People’s Republic of China in the latter’s efforts to combat a virulent respiratory epidemic, suggesting that Beijing adopt the methods Palestinians have employed for a hundred years against Jews: stabbing, bombing, hijacking, shooting, ramming, and hostage-taking, among others.

China’s struggle to date to contain the spread of coronavirus prompted Palestinian Authority President and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and several of his high-ranking officials to restate their suggestions, amid concerns that the original offer of assistance last week may have gone unnoticed in the furor. Abbas sent a personal message to Chinese President Xi Jinping with specific mention of the Palestinian people’s extensive experience with many of the methods, even those such as hijacking that only some older veterans of the resistance still know.

“It would be our honor and privilege, not to mention our duty, to assist your country in any way we can,” Abbas stated. “I would like to place at your disposal our vast knowledge of techniques to drive away this trouble, as we have amassed more than a century of experience in this arena, fighting the Zionist scourge.”
Al Jazeera Anchor’s Call for Assassinating Arab Leaders Goes Unpunished
Qatari news network Al Jazeera portrays itself as podium for free speech in the Middle East. But since its 1997 founding, it has gained notoriety as an outlet willing to air views of Islamist extremists and jihadists. It often was the first to receive al-Qaeda statements and videos, including those by Osama bin Laden.

The Qatari network promoted Islamist movements during the 2011-12 Arab Spring revolutions. It propped up Islamist agendas in the Middle East, especially those tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. The network’s pro-Brotherhood bias prompted more than 20 Al Jazeera staffers to resign in 2013 in protest.

That background is relevant in understanding an Al Jazeera anchor’s reaction last month to the new US peace plan for the Middle East.

Ambassadors from the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Bahrain attended a news conference where Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu announced the plan.

Al Jazeera senior anchor Jamal Rayyan asked his Twitter followers whether Arab leaders who supported the deal should be assassinated.
MEMRI: Lebanese Mock Nasrallah’s Call To Boycott American Products
In a February 16, 2020 speech, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah stated that the U.S. economy and the dollar are America’' Achilles heel, and therefore called to boycott American products as part of the struggle against the U.S.

Nasrallah's call drew mocking responses from Lebanese media figures and social media users. Taking to Twitter, they accused Hizbullah of hypocrisy, because its members and leaders openly use the dollar, American social media platforms and various American products. They posted many photos showing prominent Hizbullah members using such products, and similar photos of officials from Iran, which is Hizbullah’s patron. For example, photos were posted of Nasrallah's son Jawad and of the late Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani wearing the Timberland brand, as well as a photo showing the car that carried Soleimani's coffin during his funeral: a U.S.-manufactured Chevrolet.

The following is a sampling of the reactions in Lebanon to Nasrallah's call for a boycott on American products.

One of the pictures that went viral as part of the mocking response to Nasrallah's call was a photo of his son, Jawad, wearing a shirt bearing the logo of the American Timberland brand. Twitter activist Fatima Eid posted it with the comment: "Nasrallah: Boycott American Goods. [His son] Jawad Nasrallah: No way."[1]

Photo of Jawad Nasrallah in a shirt saying "Timberland USA.73"

User Abu Awadi tweeted two versions of this photo, one titled "before the boycott" and showing Jawad wearing the shirt, and another titled "after the boycott," showing him without it.
Sens. Cruz, Shaheen propose sanctions against Lebanese officials over American prisoner
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have introduced a biting new sanctions bill aimed at senior Lebanese officials involved in the holding of U.S. citizens -- in response to the detention and torture of 57-year-old American citizen Amer Fakhoury.

Fakhoury is believed to be the only U.S. citizen currently being held by Lebanon.

The sanctions legislation -- “The Zero Tolerance for Unlawful Detentions of U.S. Citizens in Lebanon Act” -- seeks to impose sanctions against Lebanese officials “who are involved in the unlawful detainment, arrest or abuse of any United States citizen in Lebanon.”

While no names are mentioned in the legislation, U.S. officials have been in contact with Lebanese counterparts over Fakhoury’s case, as Fox News has previously reported. The bill brings together Shaheen, a strong backer of the U.S.-Lebanon relationship, and Cruz, an outspoken skeptic of giving financial assistance to the Lebanese government due to Hezbollah’s influential role there.
Amer Fakhoury is pleading the Trump administration to work to get him back from Lebanon.

In a press release announcing the new bill, Shaheen who has worked with White House and State Department officials to get Fakhoury released, stated: “The U.S. Government has provided ample opportunity for Lebanese officials to free Amer Fakhoury. However, Amer is fighting for his life and time is running out. Lebanon’s officials know that their behavior – which is motivated by Hezbollah’s desire to sow discord in Lebanon – are illegal even under their own laws. There must be consequences for this flagrant disregard of international norms and human rights.”

Since his detention, he has developed stage 4 lymphoma cancer.

Hard-line Iranian students threaten to destroy Jewish sites
A hard-line student group in Iran has threatened to destroy the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in the north of the country in revenge for the Trump administration’s peace plan.

The Basij group in Hamadan province, where the tomb is located, earlier this month said it would tear down the historic building and replace it with a Palestinian consulate in revenge against Israel and Washington over the recently unveiled proposal.

The threat was first published in the Iranian Student News Network.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom tweeted last week that it was “troubled by reported threats to the tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan, Iran, and emphasizes the Iranian government’s responsibility to protect religious sites.”

The Alliance for Rights of All Minorities in Iran also tweeted about the plan to destroy the tomb and put a Palestinian consulate in its place.
The building is believed to house the tombs of Esther and Mordechai, the heroes of the Purim story. Purim will be celebrated this year on March 10.

The tweet noted that the burial site “has been a significant Jewish landmark for Jews and history buffs around the world.”

Iran's deputy health minister contracts coronavirus, report 16 dead
Two more people infected with the new coronavirus have died, taking the toll in Iran to 16, officials said on Tuesday, as Iranians worried that authorities could be underestimating the scale of outbreak.

Iran has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged in late 2019. Among the infected was the deputy health minister, who tested positive for coronavirus, state media said.

"Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 (new cases) have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection," said Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran.

Jahanpour put the death toll at 15, but later Iran's state news agency said one person infected by the virus had died in the city of Saveh. Some unconfirmed reports gave a higher death toll.

The outbreak in Iran has coincided with mounting U.S. pressure on Iran's clerical rulers that has hit the economy hard. In 2018, the United States exited Tehran's nuclear deal with major powers and reimposed sanctions on the country.

Worried that official numbers could underestimate the scale of Iran's outbreak, many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing facts.

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