News Digest — 2/24/20

Monitor: Six Dead In IDF Strikes On Islamic Jihad In Gaza, Syria

Israeli airstrikes targeting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militant group in the Gaza Strip and Syria killed at least six fighters, a war monitor said Monday (24th).  The strikes came after members of the jihadist group fired a barrage of rockets at Israel.

The Israel Air Force targeted “Islamic Jihad terrorist sites” throughout Gaza and near the Syrian capital Damascus, an IDF statement read.

It followed more than 20 rockets and mortars fired from the Palestinian enclave, on Sunday (23rd), in response to the killing by Israel of an Islamic Jihad militant along the Gaza-Israel border as he laid a bomb at the fence.

Islamic Jihad, which along with allied group Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, operates in both the Gaza Strip and Syria.

The IDF said it struck Islamic Jihad targets on the outskirts of Damascus, including a base “used as a hub” for the group’s activities in the country.

It said the sites attacked were used for “research and development of armaments” that are manufactured in both Syria and the Gaza Strip, and also produce rocket fuel for the terror groups each month.

Islamic Jihad, which is allied with Syrian President Bashar Assad, confirmed early Monday (24th) that two of its fighters were killed.  

The group’s military spokesman said “Islamic aggression in Damascus and the deaths of two of our fighters as a result of the bombing, is an event that cannot be ignored.  It will not be allowed to pass and the debt is not settled.”

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later confirmed that four additional pro-Assad, Iranian-backed fighters died in the strike.

At least one of the Iran-backed fighters was Syrian, while the nationalities of the others remained unknown, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP

Meanwhile, at least six projectiles were fired at southern Israel from Gaza on Monday afternoon (24th) amid a flareup in violence with the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad.  The Iron Dome defense system intercepted at least five of the projectiles over Sderot and Kibbutz Nir Am. At least one person was treated for shock in Sderot.



Iran Sees Major Coronavirus Outbreak, Observers Say Situation Even Worse Than Reported

Three countries – Turkey, Pakistan and Armenia – have shut their borders to Iranian citizens as the coronavirus has hit the Islamic Republic particularly hard.

A staggering 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus this month, Iran’s semi-official IRNA news agency reported on Monday (24th).

However, observers estimate that the number might be much higher than has been reported. They say that the contagion has already reached every city in Iran, where there isn’t much awareness of the importance of isolation and medical treatment is poor, Yediot Ahronot reported on Monday (24th).

The new death toll of 50 is already much higher than the latest number of confirmed cases of infections that Iranian officials had reported just a few hours earlier (12 deaths out of 47 cases), according to state TV.

An official from Qom, Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, was quoted in IRNA saying that more than 250 people are in quarantine in the city, which is a popular place of religious study for Shiites from across Iran and other countries. He said that the 50 deaths date as far back as February 13.  Iran, however, first officially reported cases of the virus and its first deaths on February 19.

A top World Health Official expressed concerns Monday (24th) over the virus’ spread.  “We are concerned about the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and in Italy.,” WHO chief Tedros Adhonom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Stockholm via a video link.

Authorities in Iran have closed schools across much of the country for a second day and as neighboring countries reported infections from travelers from Iran.

The number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country, including China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.

Iran has confirmed cases so far in five cities, including the capital Tehran which is among those infected and in quarantine.



Head Of Mossad Made Secret Trip To Qatar, Liberman Reveals On Live TV

The head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, and the head of Israel’s Southern Command Herzl Halevi, visited Qatar two weeks ago, MK Avigdor Liberman revealed on live television in Israel Saturday (22nd).

Cohen had invited Halevi on the trip to the Gulf State in which the two men met with Qatar’s Mohammed Bin Ahmed Bin Abdullah Al-Masnad, the Advisor of the Emir of the State of Qatar for National Security Affairs and Chief of Intelligence, Liberman revealed.

As Head of Israel’s Southern Command, Halevi is mainly focused on the Gaza Strip, most likely leading to his inclusion on the trip.

 Qatar has in recent years become an influential factor in shaping the future of the Gaza Strip, and it is also continuously mediating between the Hamas government and the Abbas government in Ramallah – even in Israel.

The Gulf Emirate has been demanding a foothold in deciding on the future of Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip, taking advantage of the fact that it is carrying the financial burden.

The latest meeting comes as Israel’s ties with several Arab countries have significantly advanced in recent years, openly and covertly, as shared strategic interests, and primarily confronting Iran’s advent in the region, have brought both sides to the same table.

Liberman made the revelations on Israel’s Channel 12 news where he referred to the trip as an “errand from Netanyahu,” and referenced Qatari threats to stop sending funds to the Gaza-based terror group.

Both Egypt and Qatar are upset with Hamas for misusing donated funds and are planning to cut both funding and  ties with the Gaza ruling group.



Week To Election, Likud Pulls Ahead Of Blue And White For First Time In Polls

For the first time in this election-cycle, Likud overtook its centrist rival Blue and White in polls released on Sunday (23rd).

The major polls, one by Channel 12 and the other by the public broadcaster Kan, showed Likud squeaking past Blue and White in Knesset seats, in what many are interpreting as fallout from the revelations about an investigation into a firm once led by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

The Channel 12 poll gave Likud 34 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, up one from the 33 seats it got in the last poll late last week.  Blue and White, meanwhile, got 33 seats, two fewer than its previous showing. (In September’s election, Blue and White won 33 seats to Likud’s 32).

The results were similar in Kan’s poll, showing 35 seats for Likud and 34 for Blue and White.

It is not clear that the shift brings Israel any closer to ending the political deadlock that has forced three elections in 11 months, as voters who left Blue and White or rallied to Likud seemed to be doing so from other parties within their respective political blocs.

Channel 12 also asked respondents who they believed was best suited to be prime minister.  Netanyahu led Gantz by 43% to 33%. Another 18% said neither and 6% gave no answer.

Kan asked if Israelis were concerned about going to their voting stations amid the coronavirus outbreak.  The vast majority – 80% – said they were not worried – while 14% said they were.



Anti-Semitic Belgium Parade Features Costumes Of Jews With Insect Bodies

AALST, Belgium – Caricatures of Jews, including ones depicting them as ants, were prominently displayed at this city’s annual parade.

The displays came a year after the Jewish Telegraphic Agency exposed anti-Semitic themes in last year’s parade in Aalst, located 10 miles west of Brussels.  Participants said the new displays were designed to reject the criticism of the town and carnival that followed JTA’s report.

“This is us saying we’re not going to stop making fun of everyone,” a man who identified himself as Fred van Oilsit, 26, told JTA Sunday (23rd) while wearing a costume that exaggerated the suits favored by Ultra-Orthodox men.

He and 11 other members of his group also wore an ant’s abdomen and legs attached to their backs and a sticker that read “Obey” on their lapels.  Anti-Semitic imagery has often associated Jews with vermin, but he said the display was meant to be a pun referencing how the Dutch language word for the “Western Wall” sounds like “complaining ant.”

Another group wore fake hooked noses and costumes of ultra-orthodox Jews as a protest.  Their float had signs that included “Do not mock Jews,” and “Certainly do not tell the truth about the Jews.” 

Among the thousands of revelers who watched the parade from the sidelines, dozens of people wore fake ultra-Orthodox Jewish costumes, including some with troll feet.

Rudi Roth a journalist for the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel Jewish paper, said the expressions of anti-Semitism in Aalst this year were more numerous and prominent than last year.  He called it a “backlash effect.”

Last year, JTA reported that the Aalst carnival included effigies of grinning Orthodox Jews holding bags of money with rats perched on their shoulders.