Entries in Israel (236)


Kerry Tries Reviving Israeli-Palestinian Talks

Matty Ster/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- The U.S. and Great Britain are making a new push to restart peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians that have gone nowhere for the past five years.

Secretary of State John Kerry and his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary William Hague, held talks Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Kerry acknowledged the daunting task that lies ahead in getting the two sides to bend after so much intransigence, telling reporters, "I know this region well enough to know that there is skepticism. In some quarters there is cynicism and there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment."

Still, the top U.S. envoy is holding out hope that the Israelis and Palestinians will head back to the bargaining table to work out a deal guaranteeing a separate Palestinian state and more security for Israel.

The major obstacle remains the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Abbas wants them stopped before he'll resume talks with Netanyahu while the prime minister says he'll only consider halting construction once peace discussions get underway.

In spite of the long odds, Netanyahu expressed confidence that talks can happen, adding, "Where there is a will, we will find a way."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Syria Warns Israel of 'All Possibilities' After Strikes

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- Syria responded angrily to the overnight air strikes on military targets that it accused Israel of carrying out, warning that the attack "opens the door to all possibilities."

Israel has not claimed responsibility, but moved anti-missile batteries to the north and shut down the air space to civilian flights as tensions rise.

"We will not accept to be humiliated," Syrian information minister Omran al-Zoubi said at an afternoon press conference. "We are all in a state of anger. We are abused by this attack."

Israel hasn't confirmed or denied the series of strikes early Sunday morning, believed to be the second set of strikes in 48 hours. On Friday, Israel reportedly hit a shipment of ground-to-ground missiles bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Israel has long said that it would not hesitate to intervene to prevent advanced weaponry -- including chemical weapons -- from falling into the hands of its enemies.

Syria said Israeli warplanes hit three military targets Sunday around Damascus, including an airport and the same Jamraya research center accused of developing chemical weapons that Israel attacked in January.

Syria accused Israel of "coordination" with the extremist rebel groups it is fighting, including Jabhat al-Nusra, which has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda's leadership.

The chief of staff of the armed forces in Iran -- which is allied with Syria and Hezbollah -- warned that "[Hezbollah] forces will respond to the Israeli aggression. ... Iran will not allow Israel to destabilize the region."

In the wake of the strikes, Israel moved two of its much-lauded Iron Dome anti-missile batteries to the north of the country to cover the Lebanese and Syrian borders, while shutting down the air space to commercial travel.

"There is a feeling of tension when we hear about what is happening in the area," the mayor of the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, Mayor Rabbi Nissim Malka, told the Haaretz newspaper. "Residents are calling the municipal hotline and asking questions like 'are the shelters open?' or 'are classes being held as usual?' We are calming everyone who calls and continuing daily routines."

Israel appeared to try to tamp down fears of imminent retaliation as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he would continue with a trip to China Sunday night, though his departure was delayed as he convened his security cabinet.

Syrian state media said the Syria cabinet convened an emergency session to "discuss the Israeli aggression."

The Arab League, which largely backs the rebels in the Syrian conflict, blamed the strikes on Israel and called them a "dangerous violation of an Arab state's sovereignty."

President Barack Obama, who has faced growing questioning over the American role in the conflict that has left more than 70,000 dead, did not confirm the Israeli attacks but said Israel has a right to stop its enemies from getting advanced weapons.

He added that he does not foresee a time in which American troops will be sent into Syria.

"What I do know is that I cannot see a scenario right now in which American boots on the ground would make any sense," he told Spanish-speaking network Telemundo. "And I cannot see a scenario in which, actually, the Syrian people would benefit from American boots on the ground."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Bill Richardson: U.S. Military Strikes Against Syria are ‘In the Cards’

Kris Connor/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In an appearance on ABC’s This Week, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said that American military strikes against Syria are likely, an opinion echoed by several other officials.

“I think [President Obama] signaled that he’s ready to use that military action,” Richardson said. “We can’t have boots on the ground, but I think potentially some kind of option like air strikes against some of those weapons sites to protect the rebels are in the cards, in my view.”

“Now, I think what happened with Israel is, Israel is also sending a signal to Iran, to Hezbollah, possibly to us too, that the situation right in the Syrian area is getting very, very tense.” He continued.

Syrian television is reporting that Israeli warplanes have struck a second set of targets within Syria. This would be the second such strike within 48 hours. An Iranian military official said that Hezbollah will respond to these Israeli strikes, and Israel has moved two of its famous Iron Dome anti-missile batteries into the north and near the borders of Syria and Lebanon.

Western intelligence sources say the strike was an attempt to stop a shipment of Iranian-made missiles heading to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Democratric Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said that the apparent success of the Israeli strikes means that the regime's defense systems aren't impenetrable, indicating that an air-based American response could prove effective.

“I think the fact that they were able to go in there shows that perhaps the Russian-supplied air defense systems are not as good as were said,” Leahy said.

Senator John McCain is among those advocating the need for a definite response while avoiding putting troops on the ground.

“We need to have a game-changing action and that is no American boots on the ground, establish a safe zone, and to protect it and to supply weapons to the right people,” said McCain while on Fox News Sunday.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Amid New Reports of Massacres, Israel Strikes Syria

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- Israeli warplanes struck weapons inside Syria that were bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, American and Israeli officials say.

The attack, which reportedly took place Friday morning, was the second such strike this year, further raising fears that Syria's two-year civil war could spill over into neighboring countries.

News of the strike comes as graphic evidence emerges of what a watchdog group says are scores of deaths in fighting and mass executions by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in and around the coastal city of Baniyas.

Hundreds are reportedly fleeing amid fears of further sectarian-fueled violence.

The Israeli Prime Minister's office and military declined to comment on the strike, which is the standard response following a secret operation. Israel has repeatedly warned that it would not hesitate to act to prevent its enemies from getting their hands on weapons, particularly chemical weapons.

Syrian state media made no mention of the strike and Syria's ambassador to the United Nations said he was not aware of any attack.

In January, Syrian officials responded quickly when Israeli warplanes are believed to have targeted a convoy carrying Russian-made SA-17 surface-to-air missiles, which were also said to be bound for Hezbollah.

There was no outright claim of responsibility by Israel, but days after that strike, then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak said "That is another proof that when we say something we mean it. We say that we don't think it should be allowable to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon."

A top Israeli defense official dismissed the confirmation of the Friday strike, but not the strike itself.

"I don't know what or who confirmed what, who are these sources?" asked Amos Gilad, a senior strategist in the ministry. "In my book only the [military] spokesperson unit is official."

There is no suggestion that any of the weapons struck allegedly were chemical weapons and Gilad said he believes Hezbollah doesn't want chemical weapons.

"Syria has large amounts of chemical weaponry and missiles. Everything there is under [regime] control," Gilad said, according to Israeli reports. "Hezbollah does not have chemical weaponry. We have ways of knowing.

"They are not keen to take weaponry like this, preferring systems that can cover all of the country [of Israel]," he added, referring to the estimated 60,000 rockets in Hezbollah's arsenal.

The State Department said today that is it "appalled" by reports of scores killed in the Sunni Muslim town of al Bayda, just south of Baniyas, by government forces and loyalist militiamen known as "shabiha" who largely belong to Assad's Alawite sect.

 The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog group said at least 51 people, including women and children, were summarily executed on Thursday in al Bayda.

That was followed by reports of more deaths in the Ras-al-Nabaa neighborhood of Baniyas.

The SOHR said hundreds of Sunni families were fleeing south to the port city of Tartous to escape what they said was sectarian killing by the regime.

State television said there were operations in the area that "drove back several terrorist groups" and showed rows of weapons it said had been seized from rebels. Rebel groups led by extremist fighters had been mounting operations in that area.

Also on Saturday, Assad visited Damascus University to greet students and inaugurate a statue for student "martyrs" of the two-year conflict. A photo showed the Syrian president getting a warm reception from students reaching out their hands to greet him.

The display of confidence was his second public event this week: On May Day, he thanked workers at a Damascus power plant.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Palestinians Frustrated by Obama’s Trip to the Middle East

(WASHINGTON) -- President Barack Obama’s last day visiting Israel took him back to the West Bank for a cultural stop in Bethlehem. There he toured the Church of the Nativity, the biblical birthplace of Jesus, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The visit lasted less than an hour, before Obama’s motorcade whisked him off to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to fly to Jordan. The brevity of the outing – along with just a few hours in Ramallah the day before – angered Palestinians, who felt the president ignored their plight, their desire for an independent state.

“He didn’t offer anything,” said an exasperated Palestinian official with knowledge of the meeting Obama had with Abbas on Thursday. “The problem is, he’s not showing any willingness or vision to implement his vision on the ground.”

“Obama left the way he came,” he added. “We’re wondering why he came.”

In a press conference with Abbas, Obama declined to go further than saying that Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were not constructive for peace talks. That fell well short of a declaration that they’re illegal, the viewpoint of the international community. Palestinian leaders have maintained that they will not engage in peace talks without a freeze on construction and expansion of Israeli settlements.

“It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands, to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank, or to displace Palestinian families from their home,” Obama said in a speech to Israeli university students in Jerusalem on Thursday. “Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.”

In the West Bank village of Beit Ijza, the Gharib family’s story exemplifies the anger felt by Palestinians seeing settlements expand and encroach on their land.

With seven brothers and three sisters, the family owns a house now surrounded almost on all sides by the Givon HaHadasha settlement. The settlement started as a small cluster of homes in the valley below. But over 30 years it has climbed the hill, surrounding the home. Ten of the family’s original 25 acres were confiscated, and almost all the rest are behind a fence that requires a military permit to access.

The home is circled by fences 20 feet high, with a narrow pathway leading to it from the village of Beit Ijza.

“It’s like we’re in prison,” one of the brothers, Mahmoud Gharib, said. “We have cameras, gates, fences, walls.”

“People in jail have easier conditions than this,” he added.

Asked why they stay in such difficult circumstances and whether they consider selling, the brothers said they and their father before them had been offered blank checks before.

“This is my homeland, this is my house,” Mahmoud said. “The Israelis are stealing the land day and night. I’ll only go from here to my grave.”

Fifteen acres of their land, much of it olive groves, lie beyond the Israeli security fence. They need a permit from the army to access it by crossing through a fence and across a road. Mahmoud complained that the soldiers often show up hours late when they go to harvest their olives, and force them to leave before sundown.

While the Gharib brothers spoke with ABC News, a settler appeared on the other side of the fence. Avi Atias, a 24-year-old construction worker, said the two communities had had problems over the years but live relatively peacefully side by side.

“I can’t see it that way,” he responds when asked why the Gharib family is so angry, arguing that Jews were on this very land thousands of years ago.

“They have the right to stay here if they want. But if it was my decision, I would [not want to live like that],” he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Obama Will Be All Ears in Israel

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama plans to do more listening than talking when he makes his first trip to Israel this week since first becoming commander in chief more than four years ago.

Much has changed in the Middle East during that time but two things haven't: there is still no peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, and Israel is determined to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, even if it takes a preemptive military strike to do so.

Obama has been adamant that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not take that action until he's been consulted, preferring to use diplomacy and sanctions to force Tehran's hand.

Netanyahu is more convinced than ever that Iran is on the verge of developing an atomic arsenal and wants assurances from the president that the U.S. will stand behind Israel if Israeli war jets strike Iranian nuclear facilities.

The leaders have had an uneasy alliance but Obama's journey, which will also include a brief side trip to Ramallah in the West Bank, could help to reaffirm America's 65-year solidarity with Israel.

As for the peace talks to perhaps one day establish a Palestinian state, the ruling body in the West Bank seems to believe Secretary of State John Kerry is more committed to reviving talks with the Israelis than Obama so his visit there will probably help matters.

Still, there's no chance of anything happening soon without Netanyahu's support.  Obama will have three days in Jerusalem to win him over.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Poll: More Americans Sympathize with Israel than Palestinian Authority

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Many more Americans continue to side with Israel rather than the Palestinian Authority, but -- with President Obama’s first visit there days away -- most also prefer to leave peace negotiations to the two protagonists, rather than having the United States take the lead.

Fifty-five percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll sympathize more with Israel, vs. 9 percent who side more with the Palestinian Authority, with the rest favoring neither, or undecided.  It’s been a similar gap for many years, including polling back to the 1980s testing Israel vs. the Arab nations of the Middle East.

See a PDF with full results, charts and tables here.

Despite that preference for Israel, seven in 10 want the U.S. largely to leave resolving the conflict to the Israelis and Palestinians themselves -- a result that underscores the difficulties in finding a solution to the decades-old conflict.  Preference for the United States to eschew a leading role is 15 percentage points higher than the last time it was asked in an ABC/Post poll, during an outbreak of violence between the two sides nearly 11 years ago.

Even among those who are more sympathetic to one side or the other, regardless of which side it is, about two-thirds don’t want the U.S. to take the leading role.  That preference rises to about three-quarters of those who don’t favor either side.

In another expression of support for Israel, more Americans say the Obama administration has put too little pressure on the Palestinian Authority than too much pressure -- 34 vs. 8 percent.  They split about evenly, by contrast, on whether the administration has put too much or too little pressure on Israel.  About four in 10, meanwhile, think the U.S. has appropriately pressured each side in the conflict.

This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds little sympathy for the Palestinian Authority across groups, always well behind support for Israel.  However, breadth of support for Israel varies considerably, with the Palestinian Authority and frustration with both groups gaining somewhat among less broadly pro-Israel groups.

Among religious groups, sympathy for Israel peaks, at 76 percent, among evangelical white Protestants, falling to 55 percent among non-evangelical white Protestants and Catholics, and bottoming out at 39 percent among those who aren’t religiously affiliated.  Religiosity is a factor as well, with those who attend religious services more apt to side with Israel.

Support for Israel also is broad -- more than seven in 10 -- among Republicans and conservatives alike.  This drops to roughly five in 10 moderates, independents and Democrats, and to just 39 percent of liberals, with more saying they favor neither side, compared with Republicans and conservatives.

A similar pattern plays out on the matter of the Obama administration’s use of influence on each side, with Republicans and conservatives more likely than others to think Israel is being pressured too much and the Palestinian Authority too little.  Majorities of Democrats, not surprisingly, are happy with the pressure the Obama administration’s applying to each side.

On the other hand, when it comes to U.S. involvement in the peace process, there’s agreement across religious, partisan and ideological groups (from 66 to 70 percent) that the two sides should handle negotiations themselves.

Age is another prominent marker of support for Israel, ranging from 48 percent among younger adults to 57 percent of 40- to 64-year-olds and topping out at two-thirds among seniors.  Views that the Obama administration is putting too much pressure on Israel, and is applying too little of its muscle with the Palestinian Authority, also peak among seniors.

Obama is scheduled to leave Wednesday for a two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank, ruled by the Palestinian Authority.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Biden: America’s 'Not Bluffing' on Iran

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Tough talk from Vice President Joe Biden Monday, warning that the U.S. is determined to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“Big nations can’t bluff,” said Biden at a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a group that lobbies in favor of Israel. “Presidents of the United States cannot bluff. And President Barack Obama is not bluffing.”

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanhayu, has repeatedly called for the international community, and the United States, to keep Iran from crossing the “red line,” enriching enough uranium to make a nuclear weapon.

The Obama administration has employed a “dual track” strategy on Iran, continuing diplomatic negotiations while imposing harsh sanctions on the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Biden told AIPAC that Iran has a limited time for negotiations.

“We’re not looking for war. We’re looking to and ready to negotiate peacefully, but all options, including military options, are on the table,” he said to a cheering crowd.

In his 40-minute speech he also said the Obama administration’s support of Israel is the strongest in the country’s history.  Biden spoke of how the United States supports the Jewish state militarily, citing the success of the Iron Dome program used in last year’s conflict with Gaza, and other missile defense and radar projects currently in progress.

Biden also said America stands up for Israel diplomatically across the globe. He told the crowd that President Obama makes it clear to all other allies that U.S. support for Israel is, and always will be, unwavering.

“There is only one nation, only one nation in the world that has unequivocally, without hesitation and consistently confronted the efforts to delegitimize Israel. At every point in our administration, at every juncture, we’ve stood up on the legitimacy -- on behalf of legitimacy of the state of Israel,” said Biden.

Wherever Obama goes in the world, said Biden, “he makes clear that although we want better relations with Muslim-majority countries, Israel’s legitimacy and our support for it is not a matter of debate…It’s simple, and he means it.  Do not raise it with us. It is not negotiable.”

Biden joked about his envy at President Obama’s trip to Israel later this month.

“I’m a little jealous that he gets to be the one to say ‘this year in Jerusalem,' said Biden, drawing laughter and cheers. "But I’m the vice president. I’m not the president,” he shrugged, smiling.

“So when I told him that.  I’m not sure he thought I was serious or not.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Israeli Prime Minister Issues New Warning About Iran

GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is talking tough on Iran in anticipation of President Obama's trip to his homeland this spring.

At a conference of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Monday, Netanyahu expressed concern that Tehran is even closer to developing a nuclear bomb than international observers anticipate.

The Israeli prime minister claimed that Iran has sped up the manufacture of crucial fissile material with centrifuges that cut the time by a third.

While not mentioning a preemptive military strike to knock out Iran's nuclear facilities, Netanyahu told the conference, "This has to be stopped.…How do you stop it?  Well, you have to put greater pressure on them.  You have to upgrade the sanctions."

Netanyahu hasn't made such dire public pronouncements since last fall, when he told the United Nations General Assembly that Iran would cross a "red line" by mid-2013, meaning a point of no return that would force Israel's hand to protect its national security.

Obama has been reluctant to talk about red lines but maintains the military option is on the table if sanctions and diplomacy fail to convince Iran it must not pursue nuclear weapons.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Netanyahu Discusses Obama's Spring Trip to Israel

Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- In his first public statement since it was announced last week that President Obama will visit Israel in the spring, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the trip will reaffirm strong ties between the two governments.

Obama and Netanyahu have not always been on the same page when it comes to big issues such as Palestinian statehood and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

However, this visit to Israel, the first by Obama since he was first elected president, is expected to put the leaders on a new path to friendship or, at the very least, cool down past hostilities.

It does appear though that Netanyahu's most immediate concern is the continued threat to Israel's security by Iran and its rogue nuclear program.  He said that would top his list of items to talk about with the president.

Iran is a topic that has turned volatile between Washington and Israel.  Netanyahu has insisted on "red lines" in dealing with Iran, meaning if Tehran appears to be an imminent threat, Israel would act unilaterally to stop the danger.

Obama has been less inclined to establish "red lines" but has not ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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