News Digest — 1/10/20

Israel To Release Spy And Murderer In ‘Gesture Of Goodwill’ To Syria

A spy and a man convicted of murder will be released to their hometown in the Syrian Golan Heights by the Israeli government as a “gesture of goodwill” to the Syrian government.

Sidqi al-Maqt, from the Druze town of Majdal Shams, was arrested in 2015 and sentenced in 2017 to 14 years in prison for passing photographs and written reports of IDF military positions to Syrian intelligence.

Security prisoner al-Maqt will be released on Saturday (11th), Israeli prison officials said in a statement on Thursday (9th).

Amal Abu Saleh, who was from the same town, and sentenced in 2017 for killing a Syrian national being taken to an Israeli hospital, will also be released.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the prisoners’ release is a political gesture of goodwill to the Syrian government for returning the remains of IDF soldier Zachary Baumel last year.

Baumel went missing during the Sultan Yacoub battle between the Israeli  army and Syrian forces during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. His remains were returned to Israel with the help of the Russian government on April 3, 2019, and laid to rest the day after in a service attended by thousands of people.

Also, shortly after Baumel’s return, Israel released Syrian prisoners Nashit Ahmed and Zidan Tawil Ahmed who were arrested 14 years ago for trying to infiltrate an Israeli army base and attack soldiers.



US Ambassador To UN: Soleimani Killing Was Act Of Self Defense

On Wednesday (8th), US Ambassador Kelly Craft sent a letter to the UN Security Council calling the decision by the Trump administration to assassinate Iran’s military commander Qassem Soleimani an act of self-defense.

Reuters reports the letter states that the assassination was justified under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which says that any country that wishes to exercise its right of self-defense must immediately report to the UN Security Council.

According to Craft, Soleimani’s death and the US airstrikes against an Iran-backed militia group in Iraq and Syria on Dec. 29 were “in response to an escalating series of armed attacks in recent months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iran-supported militias on US forces and interests in the Middle East.”

Craft also said that the US is ready to negotiate with Iran in order to prevent further endangerment of international peace and security by the Iranian regime.

“However, the United States is prepared to take additional actions in the region as necessary to continue to protect US personnel and interests,” she added.

Iran also justified its retaliatory missile strikes at Iraqi bases housing US troops as an act of self-defense under Article 51.



US Senators Introduce Bill To Provide $3.3 Billion To Israel

Republican and Democratic Senators on Thursday (9th) introduced legislation to provide $3.3 billion in annual aid to Israel, Reuters reports.

The new proposal seeks to put into law an aid agreement between the two countries reached in 2016 amid concern over rising Middle East tensions.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Chris Coons co-sponsored the bill, a stand-alone provision of a broader measure that stalled a year ago, according to a text of the bill seen by Reuters.

The bill would codify the 2016 memorandum of understanding between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government that guarantees Israel $38 billion in security assistance over 10 years, protecting the assistance from the whims of any current or future president. 

The measure that stalled last year included some provisions broadly supported by members of both parties, including the aid, but it also included a clause that would have let state and local governments punish Americans for boycotting Israel.  Opponents, including many Democrats, saw that provision as an impingement of free speech.

Rubio and Coons introduced the bill amid increased tensions in the Middle East after President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and Tehran retaliated with a missile attack on an Iraqi base housing US soldiers.

The 2016 Memorandum of Understanding was the biggest pledge of US military assistance made to any country.

In statements emailed to Reuters, Rubio said Israel faces “unprecedented threats” and Coons said, “The events of the past few days are a stark reminder of the importance of US assistance to Israel’s security.”



Israel Breaks 50-year Record For Most Rainfall In North, 76 Years In South

Israel broke a more that 50-year record for the highest amount of rainfall in northern Israel on Thursday (9th), according to the Israel Meteorological Service, as the heavy rains that have swept through the nation over the last two weeks are expected to continue through Friday (10th).  Emergency services remain on high alert across the country, and municipalities have put special measures in place, from positioning sandbags in key areas to cleaning drainage systems, in an effort to prevent further casualties or damage.

In the northern coastal plain and Ramot Menashe, some 14 to 16 inches of rain have accumulated over the last two weeks, and more than 16 inches fell in the Western and Upper Galilee—in some areas reaching as much as 18 inches.

The service reported that this amount of rainfall over a two-week period is highly unusual.  Since it began taking official rain measurements 80 years ago, such large quantities of rain have been measured in northern Israel only twice: in December 1951 and January 1969. 

A record was also broken in the south where, according to the meteorological service, some 5 inches of rain fell, breaking a 76-year-old record.

According to the Israel Insurance Association, about 45,000 claims have been made so far, totaling more than NIS 1.5 billion in flood damages.

On Thursday (9th), Interior Minister Arye Deri said that the government would invest NIS 5 million to assist with immediate needs.

Heavy rain and thunderstorms are expected to continue through the weekend, hitting the heaviest in central and southern Israel.  In the northern Negev, there is concern that there could be flooding in river beds.

In the Hermon and northern Golan Heights, snow is expected and temperatures will remain below average.



Israeli Tech Company Making Water From Air Gets Top Honor In Las Vegas

GENNY, the Israeli-innovated home appliance that generates water out of thin air, was named the Consumer Technology Association’s Energy Efficiency Product of the Year in the 2020 Smart Home Mark of Excellence Awards at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas Wednesday night (8th) – an award series that annually recognizes the tech industry’s top smart home innovations.

Created by the environmentally savvy Rishon Lezion-based tech company Watergen, the water-from-air system taps into atmospheric water using patented heat-exchange technology, producing up to 30 liters of potable water for a home or office every day – significantly reducing plastic usage and disposal by eliminating the waste caused by drinking bottled water.

How does the system work? First, Watergen’s built-in blower draws air into the system’s atmospheric water generator.  There, an internal filter cleans the air by removing dust and dirt. Once clean, the air is directed through the GENius heat exchange and cooling process, and condensed into water.

The water is then filtered again to remove impurities and add minerals, resulting in fresh, drinking-quality water.  Once produced, the water is continuously circulated in a built-in reservoir to preserve its freshness. The water produced by GENNY is therefore often of a higher quality than water running through filtration systems attached to municipal water lines.

“Our company’s mission is to eliminate the need to rely on outside sources for life necessities and to help people become more environmentally friendly,” said Dan Clifford, president of Watergen North America.  “We are especially honored to be named Energy Efficiency Product of the Year at this year’s CES show, because this award directly supports the top values Watergen stands for.”