News Digest — 2/2/23

IDF Strikes Hamas Weapons Site In Gaza After Rocket Attacks

The IDF struck weapon production and storage facilities in Gaza overnight on Thursday (2nd) after rocket sirens sounded in Sderot, Ibim and Nir Am at various points throughout the night.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant confirmed the strikes on Thursday morning (2nd), saying any shooting at the State of Israel or any attempt to harm the lives of the residents of the south will be met with the strength of the IDF.” 

The escalating violence between Israel and the various Palestinian militant groups has continued despite appeals for calm from both sides.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir had previously called for an immediate meeting of the security cabinet to determine what action should be taken in response to an earlier rocket attack.

Local residents in Sderot reported hearing a loud explosion shortly after the sirens sounded and the IDF confirmed that the Iron Dome air defense system intercepted a rocket that had been launched from the Palestinian coastal enclave.

The Sderot Municipality said in a statement later on Wednesday (1st) that no direct hits were reported in the city and the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council also confirmed that no rockets landed within its jurisdiction.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad appeared to take responsibility for the launch on Wednesday night (1st), writing on pieces of paper attached to the rockets that “harming female prisoners is a red line,” in a video released shortly after the rocket launch.

However, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) also took responsibility, saying it had launched rocket salvos at Israel early on Thursday (2nd) in response to the airstrikes and the “systematic aggression” against Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

According to the video, the attack was a direct response to another video published by a Palestinian female prisoner in Damon Prison, who called on Palestinian terrorist groups to “show determination and teach the enemy not to harm our women” after she claimed she was mistreated in the Israeli prison.

Early Thursday (2nd), the IDF issued a Home Front Command warning for residents of the Psagot settlement in the West Bank.

The military advised all residents to remain in their homes and to lock their doors and windows.

It added that no one should leave their residence until it notifies the public that there is no longer a threat.

All traffic has been closed off from the area until further notice and motorists are advised to stay away from the area.

The IDF issued the alert after a bag was found containing a knife and other “suspicious” items, it said, adding that soldiers are currently sweeping the area of the settlement to locate possible intruders.

Since entering office, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who oversees the Israel Prison Service (IPS), has made several moves aimed at imposing severe restrictions on Palestinian prisoners jailed for involvement in terrorist attacks.

The actions taken by the IPS and Ben-Gvir prompted Qadri Abu Bakr, Palestinian chairman of the Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs Commission, to declare that Ben Gvir’s plans could lead to a “general insurrection” in Israel’s prisons.  Up to this point, Ben-Gvir has said that Israeli prisons are like “summer camps” to Palestinian terrorists confined in them. 



Elad Ax Massacre: Fourth Victim Succumbs To His Injuries

Nine months after the horrific terrorist attack in Elad, a fourth victim has lost his life due to the injuries he sustained.  Shimon Ma’atuf was 75 years old, and leaves behind a wife, six children, and 13 grandchildren.

Ma’atuf was seriously injured in the May 5, 2022 attack, which was perpetrated with an ax.  Over the last few months, his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to Ichilov Hospital.  On Thursday morning (2nd) he passed away.

Ma’atuf had been serving as a security guard at the entrance to the park not far from where the attack occurred.  When he heard screams, he left his post and it was then that the terrorists spotted him and began to attack him viciously with axes, causing him severe head injuries.

The other three victims who died in the attack were Yonatan Havakuk, a father of five, Boaz Gol, a resident of Elad in his 40s, also a father of five, and Oren Ben Yiftach, a father of six.

The terrorists who perpetrated the attacks were arrested after a three-day manhunt; they were found hiding in bushes in a nearby quarry.

Assad Yussef Assad Al-Rafa’i, 19, and Sabhi Imad Sabhi Abu Shakir, 20, both of Jenin, have been in custody since the attack, and were recently indicted.



Chad’s President Deby Arrives To Open Embassy

Chad’s President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno arrived in Israel to open his country’s embassy in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv.

It is Deby’s first visit after taking office in 2021.  On Thursday morning (2nd) the president will inaugurate the new embassy in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

In January 2019, Netanyahu and Chad’s former president Idriss Deby announced the renewal of diplomatic relations between the countries at a ceremony in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad.

“Israel and Chad established relations between our two countries, together with your late father.  We see these relations as extremely important – with a great country in the heart of Africa.  These are relations that we want to upgrade to new levels, to new heights – and your visit here in Israel and the opening of the embassy are an expression of this,” Netanyahu told Deby.   

“We believe that the cooperation between us can help promote, not only our relations and cooperation, but is also part of Israel’s return to Africa and Africa’s return to Israel.  We have common goals of security, prosperity and stability.  I look forward to discussing all of these things with you for the benefit of our peoples and our countries,” he added.

An extended meeting is currently taking place with the participation of Israeli and Chadian senior officials.

Israel and Chad announced in January 2019 the restoration of their diplomatic relations, severed in 1972 under pressure from the late Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.  In May 2022, Israel’s non-resident ambassador to numerous African countries, Ben Bourgel, presented his credentials to Deby in a bid “to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in areas of common interest such as climate change, agriculture, water management and health.

Bourgel also serves as Israel’s envoy to Senegal, The Gambia, Cabo Verde, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau.

President Deby assumed office in April 2021, the same day that his father, the late Chadian President Idriss Deby, was assassinated by militants in northern Chad.



Israelis Rejoice As Winter Arrives – Heavy Rain Causes Disruptions

After a long stretch of spring-like conditions that have made many Israelis lose hope that winter would finally show up, Tuesday night (1/31) offered a new hope as thunderstorms poured copious amounts of water on Israel’s coast.

As of early Wednesday morning (1st), the storm had caused massive disruptions in multiple areas, with first responders helping motorists who had been stuck in flooded areas.  One such incident almost ended in tragedy when a vehicle with four passengers fell into the strong currents of the Jordan River after trying to cross a bridge.

In central Israel, a man almost drowned after he was trapped in a locked car that had gotten stuck in a flooded area.  He was rescued by firefighters and then evacuated to receive medical care.

Meanwhile, Israel’s only ski resort, Mount Hermon just north of the Golan heights, saw at least 11 inches of snowfall overnight Tuesday (1/31), raising hopes that Israelis would finally get to enjoy a winter wonderland before spring.

The blustery weather is expected to pick up steam over the weekend and reach its peak on Sunday (5th), with severe flood warnings issued for coastal cities and the Judean foothills, as well as flash floods in Israel’s eastern streams – including in the northern Negev and the Arava – mainly due to the low permeability of the soil.



Belgrade Jewish Cemetery Vandalized For Second Time In Two Years

The Sephardic cemetery in Belgrade, Serbia was again vandalized with antisemitic graffiti, the city’s Jewish community said.

The cemetery was previously attacked by vandals two years ago. 

The graffiti included a crossed out Star of David, and a swastika spray painted in blue on the gates of the cemetery.

The vandalism was the work of a group of far-right fans of a Belgrade soccer team, according to the ELCPress.

Belgrade’s Sephardic and Ashkenazi cemeteries are the only Jewish places of burial still in operation in Serbia.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the chair of the European Jewish Association (EJA), urged Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic to issue a fast response to the incident, and to also meet with Jewish community leaders to discuss how to deal with the increase in antisemitism in the country.

In a letter addressed to Vucic, Rabbi Margolin wrote: “Mr. President, the small Jewish community in Serbia seldom makes the headlines.  This is in no small part to the effort of the government, and to wider society in general, for creating a friendly and tolerant environment where Jews can live and grow.”

However, I received a message from a prominent community member that not only was the attack repeated but that ‘things are not good.’  I believe this merits a more robust response” the letter continued.

Rabbi Margolin called for the government to condemn the attack and to open an investigation leading to the perpetrators being prosecuted.

The cemetery was previously vandalized in November 2021, including windows being smashed and an ax left behind on the floor.

Rabbi Margolin said at that time, “We were very saddened to see this vandalism at the Jewish cemetery in Belgrade.”

“It is clear that whoever was responsible has no respect for the dead, never mind the living.  We extend our support to our Jewish brothers and sisters in Belgrade and Serbia as a whole, who must be reeling at this attack, and feel vulnerable,” he added.