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Islamic State video features Hebrew-speaking militant for the first time

Screenshot from a video said to be released by the Islamic State of a Hebrew-speaking fighter. (SITE Intel Group)

JERUSALEM — The Islamic State's slick — and grisly — propaganda videos regularly feature militants who speak flawless Arabic or English or French.

Now, the Islamist group is using the language of the Jewish state. A video it released this week shows a masked militant speaking impeccable Hebrew as he praises a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and threatens to eradicate Jews from the Holy Land.

It’s the first time the group has released a video in Hebrew, but the message has a now-familiar promise to perpetrate mass murder.

Calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, the militant in the video vows that “not one Jew will be left in Jerusalem or around it. We will continue until we eradicate this disease from the world.”

The real war against Israel and the Jews, he says, “hasn’t started yet, and what has happened to you in the past is child’s play in comparison with what will happen to you in the near future, God willing.”

That was a reference to the spate of Palestinian violence against Israelis, and violent Israeli responses, in recent weeks. Ten Israelis have been killed in stabbings and vehicle attacks in that time. Israeli forces, in turn, have killed some 50 Palestinians, including assailants in some of the knife and vehicle attacks.

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The unrest has stoked fears of another Palestinian uprising. Anger is mounting over Israel’s nearly 50-year-old military occupation of — and expansion of Jewish settlements on — territories wanted for a Palestinian state.

It’s unclear where the video was filmed, although the backdrop of desert scenery suggests that it could have been produced somewhere in the vast territory spanning Syria and Iraq that the Islamic State controls.

It’s also unclear where the speaker is from. But the man’s deft use of Hebrew suggests that he could be a Palestinian Arab citizen of the Jewish state, said Giora Eiland, a military analyst and retired major general in the Israeli army. He noted that the speaker had only a slight accent and used a number of modern expressions.

“It’s clear that this person has deep experience with the Hebrew language,” Eiland said.

Israeli security officials say that a few dozen people from Israel’s minority Palestinian Arab community — who speak both Hebrew and Arabic — have left the country to join the Islamic State in Syria. Israeli authorities have announced the arrest of several Palestinian Arab citizens for allegedly trying to establish an Islamic State cell in the country and carry out acts of terrorism.

Eiland speculated that the timing of the video’s release could be linked to Russia’s recent military intervention in Syria. He said the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, may fear that it could suffer serious blows from Moscow’s airstrikes, so the group may have targeted one of the Arab world’s most popular foes — Israel — in its video to garner support.

The video shows a graphic of Israel’s borders surrounded by depictions of cartoon-like militants trying to storm the country.

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The speaker, shown brandishing a Kalashnikov assault rifle, pledges to continue to remove the borders  in the region that were imposed after World War I. He refers repeatedly to the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916, a secret pact reviled by Arabs that was brokered between colonial Britain and France to divide the Middle East. During its bloody rampages, the Islamic State claims to have erased the boundary that separated Syria from Iraq as part of an attempt to expand its self-declared caliphate.

“The Sykes–Picot borders won’t protect you, God willing,” the militant says. “As we removed it between Iraq and Syria, we will remove it between Syria and Jordan and Syria and Palestine.”

But much of the message focuses on Jerusalem, where a shaky calm prevailed Friday, despite Palestinian calls for a day of rage.

Tensions have soared over the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City, which is Islam’s third-holiest site and also revered by Jews as the location of two ancient temples.

Palestinians accuse Israeli officials of trying to change a long-running status quo that forbids Jews from praying at the site but allows them to visit it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied the accusations.

The video could be an attempt to win support from Palestinians. Many of them desire new leadership after their divided political factions have repeatedly failed — either through violence or peace talks — to find a way to end the conflict with Israel.

The Islamic State has even tried to turn Palestinians against fellow Islamists in Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza Strip. Islamic State propaganda has criticized Hamas for restraining militants in the enclave from firing rockets at Israel.

But the Islamic State will fail to win much support from Palestinians, said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Gaza’s al-Azhar University. Most Palestinians are tired of suicide bombings, rocket strikes and other attacks that have fed the seemingly endless violence with Israel, he said.

“Most Palestinians don’t accept this message from ISIS,” Abusada said.

Hazem Balousha contributed from Gaza.

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