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Resources updated between Monday, January 29, 2018 and Sunday, February 04, 2018

February 2, 2018

A view of Gaza from Israel

Warnings sirens wailed in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council Friday night, signaling a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip, the second launch in 24 hours.

Residents in the Sderot area reported hearing an explosion. Officials said the projectile apparently exploded in an open area and did not cause casualties or damage.

Early Friday Israeli Air Force planes attacked a Hamas position in the northern Strip in response to a rocket attack several hours earlier. It wasn't clear whether the rocket fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel Thursday night had landed in Israeli territory, the army said.

"The IDF sees the Hamas terror group as the sole party responsible for what takes place in the Gaza Strip and for what emanates from it," an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.

On Monday, sirens sounded near the Gaza border, but no rocket impact site was found, and the IDF said it was possible the sirens had been a false alarm.

The last several weeks had been relatively calm along the Gaza border, with no rockets fired out of the Palestinian enclave.

Palestinian terrorists launch rocket at Israel, the second one in 24 hours Document

Some of the confiscated weapons

Four Palestinians are caught by IDF forces trying to infiltrate through the Gaza border into Israel, found carrying knives, grenade; security establishment is looking into whether they were planning a terror attack or purposefully tried to get arrested to avoid Gaza's deteriorating economic situation.

Four Palestinians were apprehended early Thursday evening as they attempted to cross the border from the Gaza Strip into Israel. An IDF spokesperson said one of the infiltrators was carrying two knives and a hand grenade.

According to reports the suspects were observed by IDF spotters as they approached the border fence and were apprehended immediately after crossing over into Israel. The suspects were taken for questioning and the IDF is looking into whether they planned to carry out a terrorist attack.

The army is also looking into whether the two crossed into Israel in order to be purposefully arrested, in light of the difficult conditions in the Gaza Strip, as has already happened hundreds of times since Operation Protective Edge.

Last November, an IDF force opened fire on two Palestinian suspects who illegally crossed the border from the northern part of the Gaza Strip into Israel.

One of them was moderately wounded and taken to the hospital to receive medical treatment. The second was taken for questioning.

During their arrest, the force searched them for concealed weapons and found a knife on one of them.

The two were identified by the Gaza Division's observation posts and caught during the crossing of the fence.

A month later, a popular news site in Gaza published a video clip showing a group of Palestinians ripping open and surmounting a barbed wire gate at the southern tip of the Israeli border fence, with no IDF soldiers to be seen in the vicinity.

In the short clip filmed in the Khan Yunis area, near a point where Palestinians have clashed with Israeli security forces in recent days, the youths are filmed in the "perimeter area" or buffer zone where Israeli soldiers patrol in order to prevent infiltrations from the Gaza Strip to Israel.

The exultant youths can be seen celebrating their success in hopping over the fence unhindered as they throw a burning tire over into the Israeli side and scream "Allahu akbar."

President Reuven Rivlin warned in January of an impending deterioration in the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, attributing the prevention of an improvement in the coastal enclave to the ruling Hamas terror group.

"The time is coming near, when the infrastructure in Gaza will collapse, leaving many civilians in distress, with no sanitary conditions, exposed to pollution, impure water, and epidemics," Rivlin warned during a visit to the Gaza border area.

"The entire world must know and understand that the ones who are preventing rehabilitation are the Hamas."

The Hamas terror group began ratcheting up pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the international community Monday to resolve the deepening humanitarian crisis taking shape in Gaza, after the former ordered the Health Ministry to halt activities in a hospital located in the north of the strip and to transfer all patients to other hospitals in the area.

With the closure of the hospital in Beit Hanoun, Hamas officials say that the strike will deprive some 60,000 patients in the northern sector of the strip without medical care.

The decision was taken after Hamas announced that diesel fuel in the hospital for operating its generators had run out.

A day later, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees announced that Russia, Kuwait and nine European countries have agreed to speed up their contributions to help fill a shortfall left by the Trump administration's decision to greatly reduce crucial US funding.


Four Gazans carrying knives, grenade arrested crossing border Document

Iranian woman at a reformist rally (File photo)

Tehran (AFP) - Tehran police have arrested 29 women for appearing in public without a headscarf as protests against the dress code in force since the Islamic revolution of 1979 intensify, Iranian media reported Friday.

Those arrested were accused of public order offences and referred to the state prosecutor's office, the Fars, ILNA and Tasnim news agencies reported without elaborating.

Chief prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri had played down the escalating protests on Wednesday, saying they were "trivial" and "childish" moves possibly incited by foreigners.

He had been asked about a woman detained earlier this week for standing on a pillar box in a busy street waving her headscarf on the end of a stick.

Unprecedented images of at least 11 women protesting the same way had been widely shared on social media.

A prominent human rights lawyer told AFP on Tuesday that one of the detained women had her bail set at more than $100,000 (80,000 euros).

Montazeri said those flouting "hijab" rules -- which require headscarves and modest clothing -- must have been encouraged by outsiders.

But even religiously conservative Iranians have voiced support for the protests, with many saying that religious rules should be a personal choice.

At least two photos shared on Twitter on Wednesday showed women in traditional black chador robes, standing on pillar box with signs supporting freedom of choice for women.

One held a sign reading: "I love my hijab but I'm against compulsory hijab."

Female activist Azar Mansouri, a member of the reformist Union of Islamic Iranian People party, said attempts to control female clothing had failed over many decades.

"Women show their opposition to such forceful approaches by their very clothing, from resisting covering their hair to wearing long boots and leggings," she wrote in a series of tweets this week.

Women have increasingly flouted the Islamic republic's clothing rules in recent years and often let their headscarves fall around their necks.

Morality police once rigidly enforced the rules, but are a much less common sight since President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013, promising greater civil liberties.

The protests appear to mirror that of a woman who stood in Tehran's busy Enghelab (Revolution) Street in December without a headscarf and waving a white scarf on a stick.

She was reportedly kept in detention for nearly a month and has since kept a low profile.

-'Result of our mistakes' -

Reformist lawmaker Soheila Jelodarzadeh said the protests were a reaction to the harsh policies of the past.

"Once upon a time we imposed restriction on women and put them under unnecessary pressure and that provoked these protests with women taking off their headscarves in the streets," she told ILNA.

"It's the result of our mistakes."

The deputy speaker of parliament Ali Motahari, who has been an outspoken critic of the authorities on other issues, including the house arrest of opposition leaders, played down the significance of the protests.

"There is no coercion as far as the headscarf is concerned and many women go out in the streets dressed how they want," he told the ISNA news agency.

"The fact that a handful of women are waving their headscarves in the air is not a big event.

"The country's problem is not the headscarf and women respect it more or less. We don't want to make a show of severity."

Iran arrests 29 women as headscarf protests intensify Document

January 31, 2018

Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon (File photo)

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Danon slams U.N. settlements 'blacklist' Article

The wife of the pastor, Shamiram Isavi

Shamiram Isavi, the wife of Victor Bet Tamraz, who formerly led Iran's Assyrian Pentecostal Church, has been sentenced to five years in prison.

"As far as we know, and based on Mrs. Isavi's own statements, no evidence has been presented in the case to show that she was engaged in spying or disturbing national security. She has denied all the charges," Kiarash Alipour, a spokesman for Article 18, a UK-based organization focusing on Christians in Iran, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on January 25, 2018.

"Mrs. Isavi explained during the interrogation that when the Assyrian Pentecostal Church was shut down, she attended home churches and prayed with fellow Christians and discussed the Holy Book," added Alipour. "It's astonishing that a country's national security could be threatened by a gathering of Christian believers."

Isavi was charged with "acting against national security by organizing home churches, attending Christian seminars abroad and training Christian leaders in Iran for the purpose of espionage," and found guilty by Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran on January 6, 2018.

Since March 2017, Judge Ahmadzadeh has sentenced 16 Christian converts in Iran to prison terms ranging from five to 15 years, according to Article 18.

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, states that "everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion."

However, the Islamic Republic views alternative belief systems, especially those seeking converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia order.

Isavi and her husband were arrested in their home in Tehran on December 26, 2014, along with their son, Ramin Bet Tamraz, and 12 Christian converts.

On June 11, 2016, Ahmadzadeh sentenced Victor Bet Tamraz and Christian converts Hadi Asgari and Kavian Fallah Mohammadi to 10 years in prison each while convert Amin Afshar Naderi was issued a 15-year prison sentence. They are awaiting a decision on their appeal.

According to Article 13 of the Constitution: "Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian Iranians are the only recognized religious minorities, who, within the limits of the law, are free to perform their religious rites and ceremonies, and to act according to their own canon in matters of personal affairs and religious education."

"No one in Iran is prosecuted for their beliefs unless they have committed a crime," said Kazem Gharibabadi, the assistant for international affairs at the judiciary's Islamic human rights division, on March 17, 2017.

However, Iran's Christian community, particularly its convert community, faces systematic state persecution and discrimination due to its growth.

Despite President Hassan Rouhani's pledges during his election campaign in 2013 that "All ethnicities, all religions, even religious minorities, must feel justice," the targeting of Christian converts for state persecution and prosecution has continued unabated under his administration.

All Farsi-speaking Christian churches in Iran are currently banned. Only non-ethnic-Persians, such as Armenians and Assyrians, are allowed to practice their Christian faith.

"Christian converts can only attend home churches but they could face heavy sentences," Alipour told CHRI.

Iranian Christian Pastor's Wife Sentenced to Five Years in Prison For "Acting Against National Security" Document

Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir (File photo)

U.N. chief meets with Sudan's president, who is accused of genocide Article

January 30, 2018

Iranian-American Karan Vafadari with his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssar

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Iran has sentenced an Iranian-American art dealer and his wife to prison for being Zoroastrians, a New York-based rights group said Wednesday, marking the latest case of Tehran imprisoning dual nationals.

Art dealer Karan Vafadari was sentenced to 27 years in prison, while his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssar, who has permanent residency in the U.S., received a 16-year sentence, the Center for Human Rights in Iran said.

The sentences have yet to be reported in Iran. Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The two were reportedly arrested by Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in July 2016. Little information has come out about their case since then.

Early Wednesday, the Center for Human Rights in Iran said it had received a letter dated Jan. 21 that Vafadari wrote to it from Tehran's Evin prison. In it, Vafadari said he was sentenced "last week" to prison by Judge Abolghassem Salavati of Tehran's hard-line Revolutionary Court.

Salavati is known for his tough sentences and has heard other politically charged cases, including one in which he sentenced Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian to prison.

Vafadari said he and his wife were sentenced under a law allowing for properties of dual nationals to be seized and sold at auction. He said his work in the art world "raised the suspicions" of the Guard's intelligence unit.

"Fortunately, the initial, baseless security accusations that led to our arrest were dropped, but our gallery, office, warehouses and home remained locked and our cars, computers and documents were confiscated, followed by accusations and interrogations that indicated a deeper plot," he wrote.

He added that the sentences mean "my wife and me, and every one of you dual national Zoroastrians who returned to your country to invest in the homeland you love, are always going to be in danger of losing your assets and forced to leave the country."

Zoroastrianism is a pre-Islamic ancient religion in Iran that is in theory protected under the Iranian constitution. However, its adherents can face discrimination in Iran, whose government is overseen by Shiite clerics.

Analysts and family members of dual nationals and others detained in Iran have suggested that hard-liners in the Islamic Republic's security agencies use the prisoners as bargaining chips for money or influence. A U.N. panel in September described "an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals" in Iran, which Tehran denies.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement it was aware of reports of Vafadari's sentencing.

"The safety and security of U.S. citizens remains a top priority," it said. "We call for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained and missing in Iran."

Iran does not recognize dual nationalities, so those detainees cannot receive consular assistance. In most cases, dual nationals have faced secret charges in closed-door hearings before Iran's Revolutionary Court, which handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government.

Others with ties to the West detained in Iran include Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly "infiltrating" the country while doing doctoral research on Iran's Qajar dynasty. Iranian-Canadian national Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, a member of Iran's 2015 nuclear negotiating team, is believed to be serving a five-year sentence on espionage charges. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman, also is serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the "soft toppling" of Iran's government while traveling with her young daughter.

Iranian businessman Siamak Namazi and his 81-year-old father Baquer, a former UNICEF representative who served as governor of Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province under the U.S.-backed shah, are both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. Baquer Namazi was recently released on a four-day furlough over his poor health, a lawyer has said.

Iranian-American Robin Shahini was released on bail last year after staging a hunger strike while serving an 18-year prison sentence for "collaboration with a hostile government." Shahini is believed to still be in Iran.

Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident from Lebanon who advocates for internet freedom and has done work for the U.S. government. He was sentenced to 10 years last year on espionage-related charges.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, though his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance.

Iran sentences American art dealer, wife to prison Document

A U.N. plane (File photo)

Two airplanes came within seconds of colliding off the coast of Tel Aviv on Tuesday after one of the pilots wandered from his flight course and into the path of jet airliner landing at Ben-Gurion Airport.

The two planes passed within 100 meters (300 feet) of each other after the pilot of the jet saw the other aircraft and made a snap maneuver to prevent a crash, Channel 10 reported late Tuesday.

The incident Tuesday morning began when a United Nations small utility plane took off from the Sde Dov airfield in Tel Aviv at 6:30 a.m. on a flight towards Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

As the aircraft climbed to around 5,000 feet, it strayed from the approved flight plan that should have taken it north, over the city of Herzliya, and instead immediately turned south, the Hebrew-media Ynet website reported.

The UN plane flew into the path of a Boeing-757 airliner operated by courier delivery service FedEx Express as it was coming in to land at Ben Gurion Airport after flying in from Europe.

The two planes approached each other with a combined speed of some 700 kilometers per hour (430 mph).

With just five seconds to spare, the FedEx pilot saw the looming UN aircraft and sharply altered course to skim past, some 60 meters away.

Israeli aviation authorities have asked the UN to explain why its plane rerouted from the approved flight plan, the Channel 10 report said.

U.N. plane almost causes a disaster over Tel Aviv; planes come within 5 seconds of collision Article

January 29, 2018

Molotov cocktails found outside the West Bank settlement of Itamar

Palestinian arrested for trying to enter settlement in IDF-style uniform Document