News Digest — 10/5/20

Ambassador Friedman: I Prayed For All Those Afflicted By COVID-19

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attended the annual Sukkot Birkat Kohanim prayer service at the Western Wall Plaza, which took place Monday (5th).  The event was scaled-down and with significant restrictions amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“If there’s one thing that can’t be overdone during these perilous times, it is prayer,” Friedman said to Israeli media.

“I was privileged today to pray at the Western Wall for all those worldwide who are afflicted by COVID-19 – for those I know well and those I do not know at all,” he added, “refuah shlema (full health and recovery to all).”

Ambassador Friedman is himself a Kohen – one of the descendants of Aaron the Priest, who managed the rituals and services in the Holy Temple.



‘Cautious Optimism’ As Israeli Coronavirus Rates Begin Downward Trend

More than two weeks into a second nationwide lockdown, Israeli public health officials have announced trends that may indicate the lockdown is working.

Over the last five days, the percentage of positive tests has declined.  On Saturday (3rd), the Health Ministry reported 2,557 new cases of coronavirus – the lowest number in weeks.

Just over 10 percent (10.3%) of people tested were found to be positive for the coronavirus.  This is a significant drop from the previous week’s rates, where up to 15% of those tested were positive.

Last Wednesday (9/30), two days after Yom Kippur, the Health Ministry announced 9,013 new cases – the highest-ever number reported in a single day since the beginning of the pandemic 8 months ago.

Chezy Levy, director general of the Health Ministry, told Kan news, “We need to be careful, but there is a trend of a slowdown in morbidity, which is reflected in both the number of those who tested positive and the percentage of those who test positive.”

“We’ll have to wait a few days to see if this is a trend,” he added.  “We have high numbers, but in recent days we have not seen the 7,000 [new daily cases] we have previously seen, and this is cause for optimism.”

Last week, government ministers voted to extend the lockdown until October 14.  They will be meeting on Monday (5th) to discuss whether restrictions should be extended further or to prepare for the first stage of an exit from lockdown.



Senior Sudanese Official: Normalization With Israel Is A Sudanese Interest

Deputy head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, had regularly voiced his support for normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel, but in an interview with reporters over the weekend, he outdid even himself, leaving the country’s political echelon with absolutely no doubt about the military’s views on the matter.

“It is in Sudan’s interest to establish relations with Israel,” said Dagalo, who commands Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.  “Our removal from the list of countries that support terror hinges on it.”  Dagalo even intimated openly that Khartoum doesn’t particularly care about the Palestinian issue and jabbed Arab countries that have criticized normalization with Israel.

“We don’t have a border with Palestinians,” Dagalo noted, adding that “even neighboring countries have already established ties with Israel.”  He also took aim at detractors from home, saying that from a military perspective, “relations with Israel are a Sudanese interest.”

His comments were yet another step in the ongoing process of rapprochement with Israel following the downfall of former dictator Omar al-Bashir.  It began February 3 when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Uganda with Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, the head of Sudan’s sovereign council.  In August, Sudanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Haidar Badawi said his country “looks forward to a peace agreement with Israel” – although he was promptly dismissed for those remarks.

Dagalo, however, who is strongly allied with Burhan, has not feared repercussions for his repeated support for normalization with Israel.  Normalization with a key African country such as Sudan is important in the long-term for Israel for several reasons: Sudan’s strategic location; its potential for development once it is removed from the list of terror supporters; and the effect it would have on the Arab League and other strategic Muslim countries in Africa.

On Saturday (3rd), Burhan and Dagalo’s government officially signed a peace deal that aims to put an end to the country’s decades-long civil wars, in a televised ceremony marking the agreement.



Gantz Says Turkey Opposed To Regional Peace

Israel’s defense minister accused Turkey on Sunday (4th) of destabilizing the region and working against peacemaking efforts, and called for international pressure to bring about a change in the NATO power’s conduct.

Israel generally shies away from public censure of Turkey, with which it maintains trade and diplomatic relations despite the pro-Palestinian stance of Ankara’s government for more than a decade.

Briefing Gulf Arab reporters as a follow-up to Israel’s new ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Defense Minister Benny Gantz described Turkey and Iran as “denying promotion of peace and supporting regional aggression.”

Iran – Israel’s chief enemy – and Turkey have criticized the US-brokered September 15 normalization deal between Israel and the Gulf powers, seeing a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

Citing Turkey’s actions in northern Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as its Libya intervention and contacts with Palestinian Hamas militants, Gantz said: “All of this pushes away from stability.”

“Definitely the question of Turkey is a very complicated one, because Turkey is part of NATO,” Gantz told the ZOOM conference, which was organized by the Arab Council for Regional Integration, a group that encourages Israeli-Arab outreach.

“So we must take all the options that we have in our hands and try to influence it through international pressure to make sure that Turkey is pulling its hands from direct terrorism.”

The Palestinians have been dismayed by Israel’s diplomatic inroads in the Gulf, which side-step long-stalled talks on their statehood goal in the Israeli West Bank and in Gaza.

Israel, like the United States, has argued that the deals with the UAE and Bahrain could usher in a Palestinian deal too.

“We just want to make sure that we find the right balance between maintaining our security and enabling Palestinian sovereignty,” Gantz said.



Top Hamas Official Infected With Corona At Turkey Summit

Deputy Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri has contracted COVID-19, the terrorist group confirmed on Friday (2nd).

“Arouri has entered quarantine,” Hamas said in an official statement.

Arouri is believed to have contracted the disease while meeting with Fatah officials in Turkey two weeks ago to discuss ending longtime strife between the rival Palestinian factions, which have recently announced they would join forces.

He also met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah over the weekend of September 5 as part of a delegation led by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. 

Arouri is considered to be Hamas’ commander in Judea and Samaria and is the mastermind behind the group’s relentless attempts to expand its terrorist infrastructure in the area – something that severely undermined the rule of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.  He also served as recruiter and the Islamist group’s chief financier, raising and transferring funds on its behalf.

Arouri is on the United States’ list of most-wanted terrorists and has a $5 million bounty on his head as part of the State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program.  

Arouri is believed to be living in Istanbul.  As a top target, Hamas has been trying to obscure his whereabouts and in recent years rumors have circulated that he left Turkey and is shuttling between Lebanon and Qatar.



Sukkah Built In Front Of UAE’s Burj Khalifa, World’s Tallest Building

A sukkah was built in front of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, in Dubai, just before the opening of the Jewish festival of Sukkot which began on Friday night (2nd), according to Kan news.

The gesture follows the signing of a normalization agreement between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain on September 15, which was brokered by the Trump administration.

Many have speculated that there will be additional deals made between Israel and Arab states, with Oman expected to be the next to sign.  US President Trump has hinted that there are talks currently taking place with a number of Arab nations.

Since the normalization agreement was made, several UAE ministers have greeted Israelis for the High Holy Days using Twitter and other means.

Khaleej Times, the UAE’s first and leading English daily newspaper, published a large Rosh Hashanah feature this year.

The publication’s Rosh Hashanah section carried kosher recipes and an explanation of the Jewish Calendar, as well as an article on tolerance and another on technology.  Towards the end of the section, there was a calendar of Jewish holidays with their dates on both the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars.  The feature also included descriptions and themes of the holidays and ways of observing them.  It also detailed how to live as an observant Jew.