News Digest — 12/23/19

Report: 3 Killed in Israeli Strike In Syria

Israeli airstrikes in Syria overnight killed at least three fighters aligned with the Assad regime, a monitor organization reported Monday (23rd).

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday night’s attack (22nd) hit Syrian regime and Iranian positions south of Damascus, killing at least three foreign pro-regime fighters.

It is said three non-Syrian loyalist fighters were killed by a missile blast between the suburb of Aqraba and the nearby Sayyida Zeinab neighborhood.

It did not specify their nationality but said they were likely Iranian. 

Syrian state news agency SANA reported the attack just before midnight on Sunday (22nd).

It said that Syrian air defenses fired on “hostile missiles” coming from the “Occupied Territories,” referring to Israel.

Israel has not publicly claimed responsibility for the raids.

An Israeli army spokeswoman contacted by AFP said Israel does not comment on reports in foreign media.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, Israel has conducted hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranian targets and pro-Tehran militias allied with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

An Israeli strike on November 20, killed pro-regime fighters including 16 foreigners, according to the Observatory.

In July six Iranians and three pro-regime Syrian fighters were killed in reported Israeli strikes in the southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.  A month later, the Israeli army carried out a strike in Aqraba, killing two Hezbollah terrorists and one Iranian soldier.

The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it began eight years ago.



Trump Wishes Jews ‘Happy Hanukkah’

US President Danald Trump wished Jews a happy Hanukkah Sunday (22nd), as the eight day-long festival began.

Along with a brief video message issued via the Republican Jewish Coalition, President Trump also released a written message via the White House press secretary, touting the US-Israel alliance, which he said was “stronger than ever” under his administration.

“Melania and I send our warmest wishes to Jewish people in the United States, Israel, and across the world as you commence the 8-day celebration of Hanukkah.

“More than 2,000 years ago, the Maccabees boldly reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, securing a victory for the Jewish people and their faith.  They proudly lit the menorah to rededicate the Second Temple. Even though there was only enough oil to burn for one day, through divine providence, the menorah flames miraculously burned for eight days.

“As the Jewish community gathers together to celebrate this special and sacred time of year, we are reminded of God’s message of hope, mercy and love.  Throughout the coming eight days, each candle to be lit on the menorah will signal to the world that freedom and justice will always shine brighter than hate and oppression.

“Today the relationship between the United States and Israel, one of our most cherished allies and friends, is stronger than ever.  We will continue to stand with the Jewish people in defending the God-given right to worship freely and openly.

“As our Jewish brothers and sisters gather around the menorah each night, we pray for a memorable and blessed celebration of the Festival of Lights.  May the light of the menorah and the fellowship of family and friends fill your hearts with happiness and a renewed sense of faith.

“Happy Hanukkah!”



Palestinian Man Convicted Of Selling Land To Israeli Jews Dies In PA Custody

A Palestinian man who was convicted by a Palestinian Authority court of selling land to Israeli Jews died on Sunday (22nd) in custody, PA policeman Louay Arzeikat said.

The Palestinian man, who was serving a ten-year prison sentence for “illicitly trading lands to the enemy,” died in a hospital in Ramallah after “facing an illness” over the past two weeks, Arzeikat said in a statement, adding that the PA Police and Attorney General’s office opened an investigation into the matter.

Arzeikat added that the deceased, identified only by his initials M. E., had been in PA custody since 2012 and was transferred to the hospital on December 14.

Palestinian law considers attempting to sell or selling land to Israeli Jews a punishable offense.  According to the law, possible punishments for selling land to Israeli Jews includes various degrees of hard labor and imprisonment, as well as execution. 

However, the law requires that PA Leader Mahmoud Abbas approve any death sentence, and he has not signed off on any executions since 2006.

A media official in the PA Attorney General’s Office said he had no additional details to provide on the man’s death as of Sunday evening (22nd).



Pro-Israel Saudi Journalist’s Citizenship Illegally Revoked

Pro-Israel Saudi journalist Abdul Hameed al-Ghabin told The Media Line that he suspects the reason behind the recent revocation of his Saudi citizenship is his vocal support for Israel.

On Tuesday (17th) Kan Radio Arabic news correspondent Simon Arann posted on his Twitter account a statement made by al-Ghabin informing the public that his citizenship had been illegally revoked.

“I would like to confirm that the sad decision has not come from the Royal Court, or from His Royal Highness Muhammad Bin Salman,” al Ghabin wrote in his statement.  “This by itself makes the decision illegal and contrary to Saudi Arabia’s constitution, which indicates that the granting and revoking of citizenship must be authorized by the King or the Crown Prince.”

“As I put my total confidence behind the leadership of His Royal Highness Muhammad Bin Salman, I hereby confirm that I won’t think twice nor hesitate before I give my life for my country and leadership, and compared to my life, citizenship would be a very small thing to give for the sake of public interest,” he added.

On Tuesday (17th), al-Ghabin reconfirmed on Twitter that indeed his citizenship had been revoked and that he did not know why.

The Saudi journalist has been a rare voice in the Arab world who supports the Jewish State.

‘Israel is the one country in the Middle East where diversity and religious tolerance are accepted, where Muslims, Jews, Christians, Druze, atheists, and others live in full freedom and accept each other,” al-Ghabin wrote in a Twitter post last week.  

“Israel is pleased to cooperate with all its neighbors in various fields for the benefit of the people in the region.” he said in another Twitter post.

In August, al-Ghabin wrote an op-ed for Israel Hayom in which he claimed that Saudi Arabia is openly seeking to establish ties with Israel.

He wrote that Saudi Arabia sees Israel as a logical future partner and that Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have been attacking Saudi Arabia over its position.  He also said that it’s only logical that if a Palestinian state is created, it will be taken from Jordanian land because of its large Palestinian population.

Although there are no official diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, multiple reports indicate that the two countries covertly maintain ties at some level.



Majestic Ice Menorah Ready For Hanukkah In Freezing Siberia

A majestic ice menorah is ready to warm up the freezing city of Tomsk, Siberia, where it’s going to be lit every night of the festival of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah, known as the festival of lights, began on Sunday evening (22nd) and will be celebrated for eight days and eight nights.  While Jews all over the world are going to light nine-branch candelabras, not many communities can boast such a special 10-foot high menorah.

The ice sculpture was created by artist Gitty Kamintzky.  Rabbi Levi Kamintzky and Gitty Kamintzky are Chabad emissaries in Tomsk.  Gitty explained, “We have been here for fifteen years, but this is the first time that we have built an ice menorah.

The artwork features a prominent Star of David on a base with a design resembling the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Gitty and her husband have been in Tomsk for 15 years, organizing activities that range from Shabbat services to educational programs, activities for children and youth and communal holiday celebrations.  Gitty said that around 5,000 Jews are estimated to live in the city, although it is difficult to identify a precise number.

In Tomsk, the average temperatures don’t go above minus 2 between November and March, therefore the ice menorah is expected to stand outside the synagogue for a long time.  Gitty explained, “It will be there until it warms up in Siberia, which happens around April. So I guess it will melt more or less around Passover.

The synagogue is a historical building which dates back 120 years.  Next to it stands a new building, which the Chabad emissaries hope to inaugurate in the coming spring in order to function as a children’s center.  Gitty told The Jerusalem Post that “the old and the new buildings stand next to each other, symbolizing the revival of Jewish life in Siberia.