Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses

Soldiers of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion hold morning prayers in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights on May 19, 2014. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 April 2024
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Israel army unit facing US sanctions has history of abuses

JERUSALEM: An Israeli battalion which US media say Washington is likely to sanction over alleged rights violations against Palestinians, has a long history of transgressions and impunity, according to analysts and Israeli media.

The military’s Netzah Yehuda unit was founded in 1999 to encourage ultra-Orthodox Jewish men to enlist but has since accepted other religious recruits including residents of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, where Netzah Yehuda was deployed until 2022.

The unit has mainly attracted marginalized ultra-Orthodox youths “who see the army as a means of integrating into Israeli society and earning a living,” said David Khalfa of Jean-Jaures Foundation, a French think tank.

But it has also drawn “rather radical religious nationalists having strong hostility toward Arabs,” he said. “Marked by a strong ideological and sociological leaning, the battalion has acquired a scandal-prone reputation.”

Marwa Maziad, a visiting lecturer of Israel studies at the US University of Maryland, told the Middle East Eye website that unlike most army units, Netzah Yehuda relies on volunteers.

She said: “The battalion attracts religious Zionists, who combine Jewish religious interpretations with nationalist militarism” and are closely associated with the extreme fringes of the Israeli settler movement.

The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, is home to 3 million Palestinians alongside some 490,000 Israelis living in settlements considered illegal under international law.

“A large part of the unit’s soldiers were born and raised in the West Bank,” Khalfa said, noting Netzah Yehuda was often tasked with policing and “counter-insurgency” operations in the Palestinian territory.

“A significant number of them — not all — committed abuses and the army hardly imposed any sanctions,” Khalfa said.

The January 2022 death of Palestinian American Omar Assad, 78, at the hands of Netzah Yehuda soldiers in the West Bank drew attention to the unit, with the US State Department later that year ordering embassy staff in Israel to investigate the case.

Handcuffed, gagged and blindfolded, Assad was left lying on the ground on his stomach for more than an hour in a freezing winter night.

Following Assad’s death, several Israeli media outlets published reports detailing incidents linked to the battalion that had gone largely unpunished, including beatings of Palestinians and attacks on Bedouin citizens of Israel.

The Jerusalem Post newspaper said Netzah Yehuda troops effectively allowed settlers to attack Palestinians, while Haaretz, a left-leaning daily, denounced the “clear ideological connection between the residents of the settlements and the unauthorized outposts and the soldiers” in the unit.

According to Khalfa, “within the army there are lively debates” over Netzah Yehuda, with some military officials considering it “dangerous for the army to bring together so many young people sharing the same nationalist ideology.”


Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in northern Gaza

Updated 26 May 2024
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Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in northern Gaza

  • Hamas spokesperson did not say how many Israeli soldiers were captured
  • Statement came hours after prospects for resumption of Gaza ceasefire talks grew

CAIRO: A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said on Sunday its fighters had captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in Jabalia in northern Gaza on Saturday, though the Israeli military denied the claim.
The Hamas armed wing spokesman did not say how many soldiers had been abducted and showed no proof of the claim.
“Our fighters lured a Zionist force into an ambush inside a tunnel ... The fighters withdrew after they left all members of the force dead, wounded, and captured,” Abu Ubaida, the spokesman for Al Qassam Brigades, said in a recorded message broadcast by Al Jazeera early on Sunday.
The Israeli military on Sunday denied the claim by Hamas’ armed wing.
“The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) clarifies that there is no incident in which a soldier was abducted,” the military said in a statement.
Hamas released a video that appeared to show a bloodied person being dragged along the ground in a tunnel and photos of military fatigue and rifle. Reuters could not independently verify the identity of the person shown in the video nor his or her condition.
The comments by Abu Ubaida came hours after prospects for a resumption of mediated Gaza ceasefire talks grew on Saturday.
An official with knowledge of the matter said a decision had been taken to resume the talks next week after the chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met the head of the CIA and the prime minister of Qatar.
The source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, said it had been decided that “in the coming week negotiations will open based on new proposals led by the mediators, Egypt and Qatar and with active US involvement.”
A Hamas official later denied Israeli media reports the talks would resume in Cairo on Tuesday, telling Reuters: “There is no date.”
After more than seven months of war in Gaza, the mediators have struggled to secure a breakthrough, with Israel seeking the release of hostages held by Hamas and Hamas seeking an end to the war and a release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says. Israel began the operation in response to Hamas-led militants attacking southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.


Scuffles erupt between police, protesters demanding return of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza

Updated 26 May 2024
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Scuffles erupt between police, protesters demanding return of Israeli hostages still held in Gaza

  • Israel says around 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more
  • Around half of the 250 hostages taken by Hamas and other militants have been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel

JERUSALEM: Scuffles between Israeli police and protesters erupted in Tel Aviv on Saturday after thousands gathered to demonstrate against the government and demand that it bring back the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.
Meanwhile, a small US military vessel and what appeared to be a strip of docking area washed up on a beach near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, not far from the US-built pier on which the Israeli military said humanitarian aid is moving into the Palestinian territory.
Also on Saturday, Israeli bombardments were reported in northern and central Gaza.
Some protesters in Tel Aviv carried photos of the female soldiers who appeared in a video earlier in the week showing them soon after they were abducted during the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 started the war between Israel and Hamas. Some held banners reading “Stop the war” and “Help.” They called on the government to reach a deal to release the dozens of hostages still in captivity.
The protesters also called for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and demanded new elections.
“We all saw the video, we could not stay at home after the government abandoned all these people,” said Hilit Sagi, from the group “Women Protest for the Return of All Hostages.”
Divisions among Israelis have deepened over how Netanyahu has handled the war against Hamas after the attack that killed about 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. Israel says around 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

Israeli police detain a protester during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on May 26, 2024, by relatives and supporters of Israelis taken hostage by Palestinian militants in Gaza in the October 7 attacks. (AFP)

“Basically they are not doing enough in order for the hostages to come back, either with military force, with (a) hostages’ deal, negotiating. Nothing is being done,” said Snir Dahan, uncle of hostage Carmel Gat, still in captivity in Gaza.
Earlier in the week, the bodies of three hostages killed were recovered from Gaza, Israel’s army said Friday. The army said they were killed on the day of the attack and their bodies were taken to Gaza. The announcement came less than a week after the army said it found the bodies of three other Israeli hostages killed on Oct. 7.
Around half of the 250 hostages taken by Hamas and other militants have been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a weeklong ceasefire in November.
Netanyahu’s government has faced increasing pressure, both at home and abroad, to stop the war and allow humanitarian aid into the enclave that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, almost 80 percent of whom have been displaced.
Also this week, three European countries announced they would recognize a Palestinian state, and the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, along with Hamas officials.
On Friday the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah and to open the nearby border crossing for crucial humanitarian aid. The top United Nations court also said Israel must give war crimes investigators access to Gaza.
However, the judges stopped short of ordering a full ceasefire across the entire Palestinian territory, and Israel is unlikely to comply with the court’s ruling. South Africa accuses Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians during the war in Gaza, which Israel vehemently denies.
“We were hoping the war would end,” said Islam Abu Kamar, who moved from Gaza City to Rafah following the ground operation launched by Israel after the Hamas attack in October.
In the past two weeks, more than a million Palestinians have fled Rafah as Israeli forces pressed deeper into the city. Israel’s takeover this month of the Rafah border crossing, a key transit point for fuel and supplies for Gaza, has contributed to bringing aid operations to near collapse, the UN and relief groups say.
Israel says it needs to invade Rafah to destroy Hamas’ last stronghold. Egypt said it agreed to send UN humanitarian aid trucks through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, Israel’s main entry point into southern Gaza. But it remains unclear if the trucks will be able to enter because fighting still rages in Rafah.
Israel said aid is moving into the Palestinian territory through northern Gaza and via the US-built pier. On Saturday, a small US military boat and what appeared to be a strip of docking area washed up on a beach near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
The US Central Command said four of its vessels supporting the humanitarian aid mission were affected by rough seas with two of them anchoring near the pier off the Gaza coast and another two in Israel.
US officials said no injuries were reported and the US is working with the Israeli army to recover the vessels, Central Command said.
American officials hope the pier at maximum capacity can bring the equivalent of 150 truckloads of aid to Gaza daily. That’s a fraction of the 600 truckloads of food, emergency nutritional treatments and other supplies that USAID says are needed each day to bring people in Gaza back from the brink of famine and address the humanitarian crisis brought on by the 7-month-old Israel-Hamas war.
Israeli bombardments continued in the enclave on Saturday with reports of strikes northern and central Gaza. Witnesses said people were killed in strikes on the cities of Jabaliya and Nuseirat.
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.


Tunisian president fires interior, social affairs ministers in partial cabinet reshuffle

Updated 26 May 2024
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Tunisian president fires interior, social affairs ministers in partial cabinet reshuffle

TUNIS: Tunisian president Kais Saied dismissed on Saturday the Interior Minister Kamel Feki as part of a partial cabinet reshuffle, the presidency said.

The partial cabinet reshuffle also included replacing the minister of social affairs, Malek Ezzahi.

Saied appointed Khaled Nouri as the new interior minister and Kamal Madouri as minister of social affairs.


At least one Iraqi Sunni fighter killed in attack north of Baghdad

Updated 26 May 2024
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At least one Iraqi Sunni fighter killed in attack north of Baghdad

BAGHDAD: At least one pro-Iraqi government Sunni fighter was killed in an explosive device attack at a checkpoint in Khan Beni Saad, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Baghdad, officials and security sources said early on Sunday.
Two fighters with the Iraqi pro-government Sunni tribal force Sahwa were killed and at least six people, including five Iraqi soldiers, were injured in the attack, according to two security sources and a medical source.
The Iraqi Security Media Cell, an official body responsible for disseminating security information, said one person was killed after two explosive devices were detonated near the checkpoint on Saturday evening. It also said in a statement four people had sustained minor injuries.


Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza

Updated 26 May 2024
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Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza

  • Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman: ‘Our fighters lured a Zionist force into an ambush inside a tunnel’
  • The Israeli military, in a statement, denied the claim of Hamas’ armed wing

CAIRO: A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said on Sunday its fighters had captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in Jabalia in northern Gaza on Saturday, though the Israeli military denied the claim.
The Hamas armed wing spokesman did not say how many soldiers had been abducted and showed no proof of the claim.
“Our fighters lured a Zionist force into an ambush inside a tunnel ... The fighters withdrew after they left all members of the force dead, wounded, and captured,” Abu Ubaida, the spokesman for Al-Qassam Brigades, said in a recorded message broadcast by Al-Jazeera early on Sunday.
The Israeli military on Sunday denied the claim by Hamas’ armed wing.
“The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) clarifies that there is no incident in which a soldier was abducted,” the military said in a statement.
Hamas released a video that appeared to show a bloodied person being dragged along the ground in a tunnel and photos of military fatigue and rifle. Reuters could not independently verify the identity of the person shown in the video nor his or her condition.
The comments by Abu Ubaida came hours after prospects for a resumption of mediated Gaza ceasefire talks grew on Saturday.
An official with knowledge of the matter said a decision had been taken to resume the talks next week after the chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met the head of the CIA and the prime minister of Qatar.
The source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, said it had been decided that “in the coming week negotiations will open based on new proposals led by the mediators, Egypt and Qatar and with active US involvement.”
A Hamas official later denied Israeli media reports the talks would resume in Cairo on Tuesday, telling Reuters: “There is no date.”
After more than seven months of war in Gaza, the mediators have struggled to secure a breakthrough, with Israel seeking the release of hostages held by Hamas and Hamas seeking an end to the war and a release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says. Israel began the operation in response to Hamas-led militants attacking southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.