Wednesday 24 October 2012

Israel threatens 'deeper action' over Hamas rocket blitz bombardment


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of "deeper action" to prevent attacks from Gaza after Israeli civilians came under a massive Hamas bombardment yesterday.


Ignoring pleas by the Emir of Qatar, who ended a historic visit to Gaza hours earlier, to reduce violence, Hamas said it had joined in launching the rocket barrage – the biggest violation of a tense Israel-Gaza ceasefire in many months.

By mid-afternoon, Palestinian groups had fired more than 70 rockets at Israeli towns and villages bordering the Gaza Strip.

Four Palestinian militants were killed and four people in Israel were injured in two days of violence that began on Tuesday when an Israeli army officer was badly wounded by a bomb planted on the Israel-Gaza border fence. Three foreign workers were injured when a rocket hit an Israeli village near Gaza yesterday. The Palestinians were killed and eight people injured in Israeli air strikes against rocket-launching crews and other militant targets.

The violence erupted as more than 1,000 US troops began the largest ever joint Israel-US military exercise in air defence. "We neither chose nor initiated this escalation but if it continues we are prepared for much more extensive and deeper action," Mr Netanyahu said as he toured an Iron Dome defence battery near Ashkelon. "Whoever intends to attack Israeli citizens needs to know that he will bear the consequences."

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said that if the barrage continued he would not rule out a ground invasion like the one that killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in late 2008-early 2009.

"Hamas will receive its punishment for what has happened here," he told Israel Radio. "We will do whatever necessary to stop this," .

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed Israel for the "unjustified killing of activists".

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Ultra-orthodox up in arms as Israel prepares to end army exemption

The Independent 


The Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has announced plans to draft thousands of Ultra-Orthodox students into the army – a move that could set him at loggerheads with the religious parties in the run-up to a general election in January.

Mr Barak is quarantined from the political battle ahead after quitting the Labour Party. His largely fictional Atzmaut faction is unlikely to attract any votes, and he will either join the Likud party or be nominated as Defence Minister irrespective of whether he enters parliament.

Last week, the army began sending out 15,000 call-up notices to Ultra-Orthodox teenagers who until now have been granted exemption from duty because they are studying in rabbinical seminaries – an arrangement that began in the early years of the state with a few hundred selected students but has now mushroomed to include some 55,000 young men.

The issue of Ultra-Orthodox army service was catapulted back on to the political agenda earlier this year after the High Court struck down the so-called Tal Law that allowed mass exemptions for seminary students, branding it illegal. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lost Kadima from his coalition after failing to enact new legislation.

Mr Barak told a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee in Jerusalem this week that the army had made "massive preparations" to absorb thousands of new Ultra-Orthodox recruits. He said efforts would initially be directed at 16- to 19-year-olds receiving their first call-up notices, while leaving older students alone for now. "Because we're now in election season, and to facilitate dialogue, I have refrained from setting in stone [directives] regarding those in the interim age bracket," Mr Barak said.

In order to provide high standards of kosher food, Shabbat observance and gender separation, most Ultra-Orthodox soldiers serve in special units, including the Nachal Haredi, the Netzach Yehuda combat battalion and the Shachar hi-tech training unit.

Brigadier-General Gadi Agmon, of the IDF manpower division, said that the army planned to establish four new battalions for Ultra-Orthodox soldiers, including a so-called "hesder" track that combines seminary study with combat service and home-front units where recruits could serve as firefighters, police officers and medics.

Brig-Gen Agmon said "the entire class of 2013" would be processed, but there would be exceptions for star students – as in music, athletics and other fields – and for those deemed medically or psychologically unfit.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders said they would not allow the mass draft to go forward without a fight. Moshe Gafni, an MP from the United Torah Judaism Party, said the government's plan could not be imposed by force. "You don't know what planet you're living on," Mr Gafni told the Defence Minister, warning that any attempt to enforce the draft in the seminaries would spark riots.

Hiddush, an NGO that has campaigned for a fair draft, said Mr Barak's plan was doomed. "Unfortunately there is not the slightest chance that even one yeshiva student will be drafted."

Meanwhile, Mr Barak denied reports he had met secretly with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for peace talks in Jordan last Thursday. According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, the two met King Abdullah to discuss Mr Barak's plan for a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.

The reports sparked furious reactions from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who berated the Palestinian President for reneging on his vow not to talk to Israeli leaders without a complete freeze on Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

A Palestinian Startup Success Story

A popular job-seeking Web app highlights an entrepreneurial groundswell.

TECHNOLOGY REVIEW Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Palestine is perhaps not a place you’d immediately associate with cool new Web startups. But here's a success story that shows how the territory's tech industry is starting to blossom.
Souktel, a start-up based in Ramallah on the West Bank, offers a Web-based employment application called JobMatch that blends high and low-tech job-matching services in a way that could be particularly suited to the developing world. 
JobMatch is a mobile and web-based platform that helps potential employers find suitable job seekers by filtering out unsuitable applicants, thereby saving time and cost in the recruitment process. The service now operates in 20 countries in five languages, with more planned. Its creators say it is a big hit in both Rwanda and Somalia.

Job seekers register via SMS, voice, or the Web and create a mini-CV listing their basic qualifications. A search command with a custom-matching weighted algorithm in the back-end filters applicants, matching them with jobs. Employers can look for applicants, browse CVs, or have a vacancy matched to specific CVs.

"The benefit of this is you're only finding content you need, relevant to what you're looking for,” says Vanessa Farquharson of Souktel.
Once registered, job seekers can actively search for jobs, receiving listings via sms or the Web. The technology suits developing markets where many people lack access to the Web but have basic mobile devices.
“Our key proprietary feature is the mobile match engine,” says Kristen Roggemann, Souktel business development manager. “We get a lot of traction in the Arab world with women. Their families might not want them moving to a big city by themselves to try to find a job,” she says.

Souktel currently has 700 employers registered in six countries and has matched more than 5,000 job seekers with jobs or training. The company is also behind the AidLink service which has become a key tool for aid workers in developing countries and is now helping streamline delivery of aid to Syrian refugees.
Souktel’s success reflects a rising entrepreneurial groundswell in the Palestinian tech sector that has seen its contribution to the economy leap from less than 1 percent of Palestinian GDP in 2008 to around 8 percent last year. In September, Sadara Ventures, the first early-stage IT VC partnership established in Palestine, announced the inaugural allocation from its $30 million fund, a $1 million investment in the travel startup Yamsafer.