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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Don't test us, Israel army chief warns Gaza militants

JERUSALEM — Israel's top military chief has warned Gaza militants not to "test" Israel's strength as troops and police remained on high alert on Wednesday over warnings of a planned attack from Sinai.

"Hamas and other terrorist organisations in Gaza must know that they are wrong to test our strength and that any attempt to harm the citizens of Israel will result in a severe response," chief of staff Benny Gantz said in remarks released by the army.

The military two days earlier raised the level of alert on the Israel-Egypt border and around Gaza following specific intelligence warnings that militants were planning a fresh attack on south Israel along the lines of a series of deadly ambushes on August 18.

"The defence establishment has received a warning that a terror cell in Sinai, comprised of more than 10 terrorists, is going to try and carry out an attack," Home Front Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told Israeli reporters on Tuesday, indicating Islamic Jihad was involved.

Avi Dichter, an Israeli MP and former head of the Shin Bet internal security service, said attacking Israel from Sinai was a way for Gaza militants to hide their involvement in attacks which could complicate the Palestinian bid to seek UN membership next month.

"The moment the terror organisations in the strip understood that direct terror from Gaza makes the campaign they're planning in September at UN very difficult, the alternative is a bypass... from Gaza to Sinai and from Sinai into Israel," he told Israeli public radio.

The Palestinians are to formally submit their request for membership on September 20 when world leaders begin gathering in New York for the 66th session of the General Assembly.

Although Gaza's Hamas rulers are not involved in the bid, they are keen to see it succeed and unlikely to engage in any overt attack on Israel that would harm the initiative, he said.

On August 18, a group of gunmen crossed the Egyptian border and killed eight Israelis on a desert road which flanks the frontier just north of the Red Sea resort town of Eilat.

Israel blamed the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees and hit back at them, sparking a week of air strikes and retaliatory cross-border rocket attacks which left 27 Palestinians and an Israeli dead.

A truce agreement signed at the end of last week appears to be holding, but Israeli press reports speculated that Gazan groups were planning fresh attacks to avenge the deaths of those killed in the Israeli strikes.

Two roads which skirt the Egyptian border have been closed to all civilian traffic, and the military was also preparing for the possibility of rocket fire from Sinai towards the Red Sea resort of Eilat, Haaretz newspaper reported.

In a separate development, the navy on Tuesday deployed two missile boats just outside Eilat in what the military said was part of a "routine exercise."

Israeli press reports said it was unlikely the boats' deployment was linked to the high state of alert in the south.

But it came as Tehran's top naval commander said Iran had dispatched a submarine and a warship to the Red Sea on a "patrol mission," state television reported.

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Turkey expels Israeli ambassador

Turkey is downgrading diplomatic relations with Israel after Israel refused to meet an ultimatum for an apology for the Marmara incident.
2 September 11 15:36, Globes correspondent
Relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated to an all-time low. Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu called a press conference this afternoon, at which he announced the steps Turkey was taking following Israel's refusal to issue an official apology for the events aboard the Mavi Marmara in May last year. Eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish American were killed in that incident by Israeli commandos who boarded the vessel that was aiming to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"Turkey will reduce its level of diplomatic representation in Israel to that of second secretary," Davutoğlu said. This mean that Turkey is recalling its ambassador to Ankara, and is not even replacing him with a consul, but with a second secretary, a lower diplomatic rank. Israel's ambassador to Turkey will be required to return home. The Turkish foreign minister further announced that all military agreements between Israel and Turkey were suspended. "Israel is the side responsible for the situation," he continued. "Turkey will not back down until Israel agrees to all our demands."

Today, the Palmer report on the Marmara incident, drawn up by a UN commission headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, is due to be published. Last night, Turkey said that its demand for an apology from Israel remained in force, despite the leaking of the Palmer report in the "New York Times". Davutoğlu sharply criticized the leaking of the report before its official release date.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton met Davutoğlu in Paris at The International Conference in Support of the New Libya. Clinton asked Davutoğlu not weaken his country's fragile relations with Israel further in the wake of the publication of the Palmer report. According to Turkish daily "Hurriyet", Davutoğlu told Clinton that Turkey would not retreat from its demand for an apology from Israel, and for payment of compensation to the families of those killed on the Marmara as called for by the Palmer report.