Middle East Roundup: March 13, 2017

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Israel arrests members of Hamas terror cells in Judea and Samaria
(JNS.org) Israel’s Shin Bet security agency Sunday announced the arrest of two Palestinian men who had planned to carry out terror attacks on behalf of Hamas in Judea and Samaria.

A joint operation between the Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) led to the arrest of Muhammad Azi, 20, from Jamain, and Nur Aldin Ghait, 22, from Hebron.

Azi and Ghait had planned to carry out terror attacks by shooting at civilian and IDF vehicles. In preparation for the attacks, the Hamas suspects surveyed local roads and prepared to place nails in the road, hoping to force Israeli vehicles to slow down. The suspects produced and tested improvised explosive devices to throw at Israeli cars.

The arrests occurred as part of a broad terror crackdown in Judea and Samaria by the Shin Bet, IDF and Israel Police. Israel’s security services also recently arrested several students from Bir-zeit University who were actively involved in a Hamas-affiliated Islamist terror cell, which, according to the Shin Bet, operated “pursuant to Hamas’s efforts to establish itself on the ground.”
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Team Israel falls to Netherlands for first loss in World Baseball Classic

(JNS.org) Israel’s national baseball team, which has been shocking the world with its success as an underdog in the World Baseball Classic (WBC), Monday suffered its first loss in the international tournament.

Team Israel fell 12-2 to the Netherlands, a squad it had defeated in an earlier stage of the competition. The loss followed Israel’s 4-1 win Sunday over traditional baseball powerhouse Cuba.

The Israeli team—which consists of Jewish Americans who are eligible for Israeli citizenship—came in to the 16-team tournament ranked 41st in the world and with 200-to-1 betting odds to win, but began the WBC with four consecutive wins, including over host nation South Korea.

After emerging from Pool A of the tournament with a perfect 3-0 record and adding the win over Cuba, Israel looked all but assured of moving on to the semifinals of the tournament at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. But following the loss to the Netherlands, Israel must now win its game with Japan Wednesday to guarantee a spot in the next round.

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Trump invites Abbas to White House to discuss peace process

(JNS.org) President Donald Trump invited Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to visit the White House following their first phone conversation since Trump took office in late January.

“President Trump has extended an official invitation to President Abbas to visit the White House soon to discuss ways to resume the political process, stressing his commitment to a peace process that will lead to a real peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” said Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah, the official PA news agency WAFA reported.

The report was later confirmed by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Abu Rdainah said that in his phone conversation with Trump, Abbas “stressed the commitment to peace as a strategic choice to establish a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel.” The PA spokesman said that Trump stressed his “commitment to a peace process that would lead to real peace between Palestinians and Israelis.”

During his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in February, Trump broke with long-held U.S. policy by saying that he was open to alternative resolutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than exclusively a two-state solution.

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2016 was ‘one of Israeli economy’s best years,’ finance minister says
(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org) Israel’s economy grew 4 percent in 2016, exceeding the growth rate of other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member states, which averaged 1.7 percent, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics said Thursday.

Israel’s gross national product stood at 2.5 percent in 2015 and 3.2 percent in 2014. The coun-try’s business sector experienced 4.2-percent growth in 2016 compared to 2.3 percent in 2015, the bureau said.

The newly released data also said that Israel’s gross domestic product per capita has also grown. Private consumption of fixed-price goods and services increased 6.3 percent in 2016, after grow-ing 4.3 percent in both 2015 and 2014. Overall, 2016 saw a 2-percent rise in fixed prices, which are unaffected by inflation rates, compared to 0.5-percent growth the previous year.

“It is safe to say that 2016 will be remembered as one of Israeli economy’s best years,” Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Thursday.

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