An Israeli missile has struck Iran

iran-israel-strike

Important Takeaways:

  • The strike came less than a week after Iran’s unprecedented retaliatory drone and missile attack on Israel, to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed to respond.
  • U.S. officials did not provide any information about the location or extent of the Israeli strike, and the Israel Defense Forces would not comment on the attack when asked by CBS News.
  • State media and Iranian sources speaking with various news outlets mentioned only small drones flying around a couple sites in the country, without any reference to a missile strike.
  • Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi, spoke of Iran’s assault a week earlier against Israel, which he called “necessary, obligatory” and a “sign of the power of the Islamic republic and its armed forces.”
  • Iran announced that it had grounded commercial flights in Tehran and across areas of its western and central regions, but state television later said normal flight operations had resumed.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Erdogan accuses Israel of intent of total destruction of Gaza: Netanyahu hits back saying “He himself shelled Turkish villages”

Syrian-Kurdish demonstrators

Important Takeaways:

  • Erdogan blasts Israel as a ‘terrorist state’ intent on ‘total destruction’ of Gaza
  • Erdogan told the Turkish parliament that “the Israeli government has been continuously committing war crimes for the last 40 days, they are bombing hospitals, streets and mosques, and are aiming for all these places intentionally, implementing a strategy of total destruction of a city and its people.”
  • “They [Israel] have been speaking about murdering all those people using nuclear weapons, so let me call on Benjamin Netanyahu — do you have nuclear weapons or not? Explain this, if you have the courage.”
  • “You are threatening people with atomic bombs, nuclear bombs. It does not matter what you have, you are a goner,” he said.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at Erdogan hours later.
  • “He calls Israel a terror state, but in his actions he supports the terror state of Hamas,” said Netanyahu, in comments released by his office. “He himself shelled Turkish villages within the borders of Turkey — we will not accept his preaching.” Netanyahu was likely referring to Turkish military action against Kurdish areas of the country in recent years.
  • In 2019, Amnesty International found Turkey to have displayed “a shameful disregard for civilian life, carrying out serious violations and war crimes, including summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians.”
  • Hamas has been allowed to flourish inside Turkey for over a decade and has run operations from an office in Istanbul, although Turkey insisted it only hosted the group’s political wing.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Threats against Israel from Deputy Head of Hamas’ political bureau

Hamas-Iran-shake-hands

Important Takeaways:

  • Hamas issues terror threat to Israel: ‘We will return to the Intifada’
  • Saleh al-Arouri, Deputy Head of Hamas’ political bureau, met in Beirut on Saturday with a delegation from the leadership of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – led by its Deputy Secretary-General, Jamil Mazhar.
  • The two called on Hamas and the Popular Front to escalate their opposition against Israel.
  • The two factions also called on the Palestinian Authority leadership to “return to the intifada in order to achieve national unity and the settlement of the Palestinian home on national and democratic bases.”
  • Last month, Arouri threatened regional warfare against Israel, to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas and Iran would pay “full price” for their terrorist attacks against Israel.
  • Arouri also said that the Israeli government would “suffer a resounding defeat, which will lead to their withdrawal from the entire West Bank.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Who’s who in Israel’s new patchwork coalition government

By Ari Rabinovitch

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s new government is a hodgepodge of political parties that had little in common other than a desire to unseat veteran right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The coalition, sworn in on Sunday, spans the far left to far right and includes for the first time a small Islamist faction representing Israel’s Arab minority.

It is expected to focus mostly on economic and social issues rather than risk exposing internal rifts by trying to address major diplomatic matters such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Here are the people who are leading the new government:

NAFTALI BENNETT – PRIME MINISTER

Bennett leads the ultranationalist Yamina (Rightwards) party that champions Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He made a fortune in Israeli high-tech before entering politics in 2013. Bennett, 49, served in previous Netanyahu-led governments, most recently as defense minister.

Now he says he joined with opponents to save the country from political turmoil that could otherwise have led to a fifth election in just over two years. A plan he has floated to annex much of the West Bank seems unfeasible, given his new partners. He opposes the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Under the coalition deal, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years whereupon he is to be replaced by Yair Lapid. He is Israel’s first leader to wear a kippah, a skullcap worn by Orthodox Jews.

YAIR LAPID – FOREIGN MINISTER

Lapid heads the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party and was the architect behind the new government. His party is the biggest in the coalition but he agreed to share power with Bennett to secure a parliamentary majority.

Lapid, 57, whose late father was a justice minister in a previous governing coalition, quit his job as a TV anchor in 2012 and formed his own party, running on a promise to ease financial pressures on the middle-class.

He also seeks to end many of the state-funded privileges enjoyed by ultra-Orthodox Jews, a long-running source of grievance to many secular Israelis.

Lapid initially served as finance minister before moving to the opposition, which he led until Sunday. He will serve as foreign minister for two years and then take over as prime minister until the end of the government. If it lasts that long.

BENNY GANTZ – DEFENCE MINISTER

Just two years ago Gantz, a former armed forces chief of staff heading the centrist Blue and White party, was the opposition’s best hope to unseat Netanyahu.

But he agreed to join Netanyahu in a “unity” government, a decision that angered many of his supporters. Gantz, 62, is in the new coalition, remaining as defense minister.

AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN – FINANCE MINISTER

A far-right immigrant from Moldova who lives in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Lieberman, 63, has been a political wildcard over the past decade. He has joined Netanyahu governments, including as defense minister, but also quit.

As finance minister he will have to rein in a budget deficit that ballooned during the coronavirus crisis.

He has also said he will try to change the status quo between the government and Israel’s politically powerful ultra-Orthodox minority, which was a mainstay of Netanyahu’s outgoing government.

The ultra-Orthodox community has low participation rates in the workforce and relies heavily on government handouts while focusing on religious studies. Lieberman has said he will work to integrate them more into the economy.

GIDEON SAAR – JUSTICE MINISTER

Saar was Netanyahu’s main rival within Likud, but Netanyahu did his best to keep him out of the spotlight and away from the highest-level portfolios. Frustrated, Saar launched an ultimately failed leadership bid then spun off his own party.

As head of the New Hope party, Saar, 54, will serve as justice minister, where he will oversee the legal system and become a member of the security cabinet.

MANSOUR ABBAS

Abbas’s small United Arab List is the first party in an Israeli government to be drawn from Israel’s 21% Arab minority – Palestinian by culture and heritage, but Israeli by citizenship.

He split with other Arab politicians who prefer to remain outside government and cast aside differences with Bennett and other right-wingers to tip the scales against Netanyahu.

Abbas, 47, is expected to serve as a deputy minister in the prime minister’s office. He aims to negotiate a big increase in government spending in Arab towns and villages.

But his presence is a potentially destabilizing factor. He has been criticized by Palestinians for agreeing to support an Israeli government while Israel continues to occupy territories it captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians seek a state. Addressing these tensions, Abbas told the Italian daily La Repubblica on Friday: “There will be difficult decisions to be made, including security decisions. We have to juggle our identity as Palestinian Arabs and citizens of the State of Israel, between civil and nationalistic aspects.”

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; additional reporting by Giulia Segreti in Rome; editing by Stephen Farrell and Mark Heinrich)

Blinken announces U.S. aid to Gaza, pledges to reopen Jerusalem consulate

By Ali Sawafta and Jeffrey Heller

RAMALLAH, West Bank/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged on a Middle East mission on Tuesday that Washington would provide new aid to help rebuild Gaza as part of efforts to bolster a ceasefire between its Hamas Islamist rulers and Israel.

Hoping to reverse a move taken by former President Donald Trump that angered Palestinians, Blinken said the United States would advance the process of re-opening the Jerusalem consulate that had served as its diplomatic channel to the Palestinians.

Speaking alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Blinken said the United States would provide an additional $75 million in development and economic aid to the Palestinians in 2021, $5.5 million in immediate disaster relief for Gaza and $32 million to U.N. Palestinian aid agency.

But Blinken reiterated that Washington intended to ensure that Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organization, did not benefit from the humanitarian aid – a potentially difficult task in an enclave over which it has a strong grip.

Blinken began his regional visit in Jerusalem, where he held talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, speaking to reporters with the top U.S. diplomat at his side, threatened a “very powerful response” if Hamas renewed cross-border rocket strikes.

The truce, brokered by Egypt and coordinated with the United States, began on Friday after 11 days of the worst fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel in years. Now in its fifth day, it has been holding.

“We know that to prevent a return to violence we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges,” Blinken said.

“And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”

Blinken will be in the region through Thursday, and will also travel to Egypt and Jordan. In tandem with his visit, Israeli authorities allowed fuel, medicine and food earmarked for Gaza’s private sector to enter the territory for the first time since the hostilities began on May 10.

Blinken said re-opening the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem would be “an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people”.

The Trump administration merged the consulate with the U.S. Embassy in Israel in 2019, two years after recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and later moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Those moves broke with long-standing U.S. policy and infuriated Palestinians, who seek East Jerusalem as capital of future state.

Israel deems all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move not recognized internationally, as its undivided capital.

Biden has no plans to reverse the embassy relocation but has moved in the early months of his term to repair relations with Palestinians. In April, Biden restored hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid cut by Trump.

Speaking alongside Blinken, Abbas thanked the U.S. “for its commitment to the two-state solution (and maintaining) the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif,” a Jerusalem compound holy to Muslims and Jews that contains Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Abbas also thanked Blinken for what he called American support “for the preservation of (Palestinian) residents of … Sheikh Jarrah,” an East Jerusalem neighborhood where the potential evictions of Palestinian families helped spark the Israel-Gaza fighting.

TWO STATES

Negotiations between Israel and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank, collapsed in 2014.

While Biden has said a two-state solution was the only answer to resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, U.S. officials have suggested it was too early for wider peace talks.

Israel is in political flux after four inconclusive elections in two years, and the Palestinians are divided by enmity between Hamas and Abbas, who holds sway in the West Bank.

Blinken said he and Netanyahu discussed “other steps” that need to be taken by leaders on both sides to set “a better course” for Israelis and Palestinians.

“As President Biden said, we believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and democracy, to be treated with dignity,” Blinken said.

At least 254 people were killed in Gaza and more than 1,900 wounded, Palestinian health authorities said, during the fighting that saw hundreds of Israeli air strikes.

The Israeli military put the death toll in Israel at 13, with hundreds treated for injuries after rocket salvoes caused panic and sent people as far away as Tel Aviv rushing into shelters.

Commercial buildings, residential towers and private houses across the Gaza Strip, where two million people live, were damaged or destroyed by the time the ceasefire was announced.

In Gaza, Palestinian officials estimated reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars. Israel has blockaded the territory since 2007, in what Palestinians condemn as collective punishment. Egypt also maintains restrictions on its border with Gaza. Both countries cite security concerns for the measures.

Israel says air strikes hit legitimate military targets and that it did its utmost to avoid civilian casualties, including giving prior warnings when it was about to strike residential buildings that it said also had a military use.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by William Maclean)

Dozens dead as Israel and Hamas escalate aerial bombardments

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Hostilities between Israel and Hamas escalated on Tuesday, raising the death toll in two days to 30 Palestinians and three Israelis, with Israel carrying out multiple air strikes in Gaza and the Islamist militant group firing rockets at Tel Aviv.

A 13-story residential Gaza block collapsed after one of several dozen air strikes. Late into the night, Gazans reported their homes shaking and the sky lighting up with near-constant Israeli strikes.

Israelis ran for shelters in communities more than 70 km (45 miles) up the coast amid sounds of explosions as Israeli interceptor missiles streaked into the sky. Israel said hundreds of rockets had been fired by Palestinian militant groups.

For Israel, the militants’ targeting of Tel Aviv, its commercial capital, posed a new challenge in the confrontation with the Islamist Hamas group, regarded as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.

The violence followed weeks of tension in Jerusalem during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, with clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque, on the compound revered by Jews as Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

These escalated in recent days ahead of a – now postponed – court hearing in a case that could end with Palestinian families evicted from East Jerusalem homes claimed by Jewish settlers.

There appeared no imminent end to the violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that militants would pay a “very heavy” price for the rockets, which reached the outskirts of Jerusalem on Monday during a holiday in Israel commemorating its capture of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war.

“We are at the height of a weighty campaign,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks alongside his defense minister and military chief.

“Hamas and Islamic Jihad paid … and will pay a very heavy price for their belligerence … their blood is forfeit.”

Hamas – seeking the opportunity to marginalize Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to present itself as the guardians of Palestinians in Jerusalem – said it was up to Israel to make the first move.

The militant group’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a televised speech that Israel had “ignited fire in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa and the flames extended to Gaza, therefore, it is responsible for the consequences.”

Haniyeh said that Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations had been in contact urging calm but that Hamas’s message to Israel was: “If they want to escalate, the resistance is ready, if they want to stop, the resistance is ready.”

The White House said on Tuesday that Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself from rocket attacks but applied pressure on Israel over the treatment of Palestinians, saying Jerusalem “must be a place of co-existence.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki opened her daily news briefing with a statement about the situation, saying that President Joe Biden’s primary focus was on de-escalation.

The United States was delaying U.N. Security Council efforts to issue a public statement on escalating tensions because it could be harmful to behind-the-scenes efforts to end the violence, according to diplomats and a source familiar with the U.S. strategy.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said Washington is “actively engaged in diplomacy behind the scenes with all parties to achieve a ceasefire” and was concerned that a council statement might be counterproductive at the moment.

Israel said it had sent 80 jets to bomb Gaza, and dispatched infantry and armor to reinforce the tanks already gathered on the border, evoking memories of the last Israeli ground incursion into Gaza to stop rocket attacks, in 2014.

More than 2,100 Gazans were killed in the seven-week war that followed, according to the Gaza health ministry, along with 73 Israelis, and thousands of homes in Gaza were razed.

PLUMES OF BLACK SMOKE

Video footage on Tuesday showed three plumes of thick, black smoke rising from the Gaza block as it toppled over. Electricity in the surrounding area went out.

Residents of the block and the surrounding area had been warned to evacuate the area around an hour before the air strike, according to witnesses, and there were no reports of casualties two hours after it collapsed.

People in other blocks reported that they received warnings from Israel to evacuate ahead of a possible attack.

In Tel Aviv, air raid sirens and explosions were heard around the city. Pedestrians ran for shelter, and diners streamed out of restaurants while others flattened themselves on pavements as the sirens sounded.

The Israel Airports Authority said it had halted take-offs at Tel Aviv airport “to allow defense of the nation’s skies,” but later resumed them.

Video broadcast on Israeli Channel 12 television showed interceptor missiles rising above the runways.

The International Committee of the Red Cross urged all sides to step back, and reminded them of the requirement in international law to try to avoid civilian casualties.

“The recent rockets in Israel and air strikes in Gaza represent a dangerous escalation of the tensions and violence witnessed over the past days in Jerusalem, including its Old City,” Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, said in a statement.

Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said a 50-year-old woman was killed when a rocket hit a building in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion, and that two women had been killed in rocket strikes on the southern city of Ashkelon.

But the Israeli military said many of the rockets fired from Gaza had fallen short and wounded Palestinians, and that Israel’s Iron Dome air defenses had intercepted the bulk of those that made it across the border.

Violence has also ticked up in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian and injured another on Tuesday after they shot towards Israeli troops near the Palestinian city of Nablus, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Nandita Bose and Steve Holland in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York, and Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Giles Elgood and Howard Goller)

Skeptical president invites Netanyahu to form next Israeli government

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -A skeptical president invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to form a new government, after another inconclusive election deepened political stalemate in Israel.

The country’s longest-serving leader, in power without interruption since 2009, now faces the tough challenge of enlisting enough allies for a governing coalition.

Under law, Netanyahu will have 28 days to do so, with the possibility of a two-week extension before President Reuven Rivlin picks another candidate or asks parliament to choose one. Continued deadlock could ultimately result in a new election.

Announcing on television his choice of Netanyahu, Rivlin cast doubt on his prospects for success and on whether any other prospective candidate could complete the task.

“To my great regret, I have the impression that none of the candidates, at this stage, has a real chance of putting together a government, one that would win a confidence vote in parliament,” Rivlin said.

He noted that he was legally bound to make the nomination nonetheless.

Netanyahu struck an upbeat note, however, telling his conservative Likud faction: “The task is not easy but not impossible. The goal is within reach. I reckon we can do it.”

Israel’s election on March 23, its fourth in two years, ended with neither a Netanyahu-led rightist and religious bloc nor a prospective alliance of his opponents capturing a parliamentary majority.

In consultations Rivlin held with political parties on Monday on granting the coalition-building mandate, Netanyahu received more endorsements than his challengers.

In his televised remarks, Rivlin said that under Israeli law, Netanyahu, as the incumbent, was not disqualified from being assigned the task despite his indictment on corruption charges.

Rivlin made the announcement as Netanyahu’s trial entered its second day in a Jerusalem courthouse.

Charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud, Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the prosecution of an “attempted coup” aimed at ousting a “strong, right-wing prime minister”.

“The president fulfilled his duty and he had no choice, but granting Netanyahu the mandate is a shameful stain on Israel,” Netanyahu’s strongest rival, centrist politician Yair Lapid, said.

Netanyahu, backed by 52 of parliament’s 120 members, has tried to break the stalemate by urging two right-wing rivals – former defence chief Naftali Bennett and veteran politician Gideon Saar – to join him.

Bennett, addressing his Yamina faction, wished Netanyahu success in his task, but the possible kingpin politician remained non-committal on whether he would enter into such an alliance.

“We will come, with goodwill, to any coalition talks in order to establish a stable, right-wing government,” Bennett said. “I pledge that whatever government is created, regardless of who puts it together, we will make sure that it represents all Israeli citizens.”

Saar, leader of the New Horizon faction, has publicly ruled out serving under Netanyahu, saying a change in national leadership was imperative.

Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, said on Monday he had proposed a coalition deal to Bennett. Under the arrangement, Bennett would serve first as prime minister and then Lapid would take over.

Bennett, who has seven seats in parliament to Lapid’s 17, said such a government must reflect the right-wing sentiment of most Israeli voters rather than just be a patchwork alliance of parties from the right, centre and left.

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Palestinian hospitals fill up as Israel loosens COVID-19 restrictions

By Zainah El-Haroun

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian hospitals are overfull and intensive-care units operating at 100% capacity with coronavirus patients in some areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday.

Palestinian cities have introduced full lockdowns over the last two weeks to control soaring COVID-19 infections, even as neighboring Israel has begun to lift restrictions as it proceeds with one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns.

“The percentage of hospital occupancy in some areas has reached more than 100%,” Shtayyeh said in Ramallah, one of the West Bank cities where his Palestinian Authority (PA) exercises limited self-rule.

“The number of casualties is increasing and the number of deaths is increasing on a daily basis, forcing us to take strict, direct and unprecedented measures.”

The West Bank and Gaza, home to a combined 5.2 million Palestinians, have received around 34,700 vaccine doses to date. These came from small donations by Israel and Russia as well as 20,000 sent by the United Arab Emirates to Gaza.

Meanwhile in Israel, restaurants reopened on Sunday as the country kept up a fast pace of mass vaccinations.

“I brought millions of doses, now I’ll have to bring tens of millions of doses. I am currently in talks with Pfizer and Moderna to bring more,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel Army Radio, campaigning ahead of a March 23 election.

Israel has given 53% of its 9 million population at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, according to Health Ministry data, and 38% have received both doses.

The contrast has not gone unnoticed among Palestinians.

On Monday, Israel extended its vaccination program to include Palestinian laborers who work in Israel and in its West Bank settlements.

Many Palestinians argue that Israel is neglecting its obligations as an occupying power by not including them in the mass roll-out.

“The number of vaccinations in Israel is really high,” Saji Khalil, 75, told Reuters. “Even the Palestinian laborers whom they vaccinated, they did it to serve the Israeli community, not to look out for the well-being of the laborers.”

Israeli officials say that under the 1990s Oslo interim peace accords, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for vaccinating its population.

Many Palestinians are dissatisfied with their leaders. The PA came under fire from rights groups last week after admitting that it had sent 10% of the COVID-19 doses that it received to VIPs.

Firas Narawesh, from Ramallah, said the government had failed to provide vaccinations to ordinary Palestinians, and had “distributed vaccinations in an unfair way and in an unequal way with clear favoritism and corruption.”

(Additional reporting by Adel Abu Nimeh and Ismael Khader in Ramallah; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Mark Heinrich)

Netanyahu orders more settler homes built

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered construction plans advanced on Monday for some 800 Jewish settler homes in the occupied West Bank, anchoring the projects in the final days of the pro-settlement Trump administration.

Palestinians condemned such construction as illegal. The timing of the move appeared to be an attempt to set Israel’s blueprint in indelible ink.

Moving ahead with the projects could help shore up support for Netanyahu from settlers and their backers in a March 23 election, Israel’s fourth in two years, in which the conservative leader faces new challenges from the right.

An announcement by Netanyahu’s office said about 800 homes would be built in the settlements of Beit El and Givat Zeev, north of Jerusalem, and in Tal Menashe, Rehelim, Shavei Shomron, Barkan and Karnei Shomron in the northern West Bank. It gave no starting date for construction.

The Trump administration has effectively backed Israel’s right to build West Bank settlements by abandoning a long-held U.S. position that they break international law. Trump has also delighted Israeli leaders and angered Palestinians by recognizing contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there.

Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said Netanyahu wants the settlement move “to be set in stone before the Biden administration comes into office, and maybe changes Israeli-American tacit understandings on settlements that existed under Trump.”

Netanyahu also wants to tell voters he is “the only leader who can stand up to Biden and make sure he doesn’t dictate our policy in the (Palestinian) territories,” Talshir said.

Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, all land captured by Israel in a 1967 war.

Most countries view Israeli settlements as violating international law. Israel disputes this, citing historical, political and biblical links to the West Bank, where more than 440,000 Israeli settlers now live among 3 million Palestinians who have limited self rule under Israeli occupation.

As vice president under Barack Obama, Biden was put in an uncomfortable position during a visit to Israel in 2010 when Israel announced plans for a settlement in a West Bank area annexed to Jerusalem. Arriving 90 minutes late for dinner with Netanyahu, Biden condemned the decision as undermining U.S.-Israeli trust.

(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Peter Graff)

Iran vows “decisive response” to any Israeli move against it

DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran said on Tuesday it would deliver a “decisive response” to any Israeli move against it, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not allow Tehran to develop nuclear weapons, a news agency close to the Revolutionary Guards said.

On Monday, Iran said it resumed 20% uranium enrichment at a nuclear facility, a move that coincides with rising tensions with the United States. The decision is the latest of several Iranian breaches of a 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

Netanyahu said the move was aimed at developing nuclear weapons and Israel would never allow Tehran to build them. Iran says it has never sought nuclear weapons.

Iran’s Nour News quoted an unnamed security official as saying: “This regime (Israel) should be aware that any aggression against Iran’s interests and security from any side and in any way, whether (Israel) admits or denies responsibility, will face a decisive response from Iran against this regime.”

The statement was widely carried by Iranian news agencies and state media.

Separately, Iran on Tuesday gave more details about its enrichment decision by saying it had the capacity to produce up to 9 kg of 20% enriched uranium per month.

“At present, we produce 17 to 20 grams of 20% uranium every hour,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said according to state media. “We have a monthly production capacity of 8 to 9 kg to reach the 120 kg stipulated by the law.”

The decision to enrich to 20 percent purity was one of many moves mentioned in a law passed by Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament last month in response to the killing of the country’s top nuclear scientist, which Tehran has blamed on Israel.

Tehran started violating the accord in 2019 in a step-by-step response to Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear accord in 2018 and the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions lifted under the deal.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by William Maclean)