News Digest — 2/24/22

Alleged Israeli Airstrike Targets Damascus

An alleged Israeli airstrike targeted sites near Damascus on Wednesday night (23rd), according to Syrian state news agency SANA.

Three Syrian soldiers were killed and damage was caused by the strikes, according to SANA.

According to the Syrian Capital Voice site, the strikes targeted an air defense battery in al-Kiswah and an Iranian weapons shipment at the Damascus International Airport.

A Syrian air defense missile fell on the road leading to the Damascus Airport, according to the Capital Voice.

The opposition-affiliated Halab Today TV reported that the strike resulted in 7 deaths and 12 injuries, as well as significant material damage.

The airstrike comes just a day after Syrian state media reported that Israel had fired a number of surface-to-surface missiles from the Golan Heights toward sites in Quneitra near the border, causing material damage.

Last week, a number of sites were targeted by surface-to-surface missiles near Zaqyah, south of Damascus.  According to the Capital Voice, Iranian militias control sites and warehouses at the places targeted.

Two weeks ago, an anti-aircraft missile fired from Syria set off rocket sirens in and near Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel, as Syrian state media reported an alleged airstrike near Damascus.

On Monday (21st), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned Israeli strikes in Syria, warning that these attacks could lead to an escalation.  Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad warned that Syria would respond to Israeli attacks.



Israelis In Ukraine Told To Evacuate, Israeli Diplomats Help

Israeli diplomats were stationed at crossings on Ukraine’s western border to help Israelis evacuate by land on Thursday (24th), following Russia’s attack on the country and the closure of its airspace.

An estimated 7,000-8,000 Israelis remain in Ukraine, and the Israeli embassy asked that those who have not yet done so, register on its website to receive updates.

Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine, Michael Brodsky said that Israel “is asking Israelis to reach the border crossing with Poland independently.

“We are prepared on the Polish side to accept Israelis and help them fly to Israel,” Brodsky told KAN.

Israeli embassies sent representatives to the Medyka crossing with Poland, the Vysne Nemecke crossing with Slovakia, the Zahony crossing with Hungary, the Siret crossing with Romania and the Planca crossing with Moldova.

The Israeli Embassy in Ukraine, which moved to Lviv near the western border to be farther from the more intense warzone in the east and to help with evacuations, has received hundreds of phone calls, the ambassador said.

“We are staying here at the moment,” Brodsky added.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is set to hold a situation assessment meeting at 10 a.m. on Thursday (24th).

Hatzalah Jewish Rescue Services in Uman, Ukraine, the site of the Hasidic pilgrimages to Rabbi Nachman of Bresley’s grave, said on Thursday (24th) that they “woke up under fire in the morning.”

“We prepared buses in advance, but there is chaos at the moment and no driver is willing to drive to the borders,” Hatzalah’s spokesman Shlomi Elisha said. “We are coordinating all the efforts to organize buses as much as we can.”

The buses will leave from Pushkina Square in Uman, with security and medical staff.

“Israel is prepared to deliver immediate humanitarian assistance to Ukraine,” Minister of Immigration and Absorption in Israel, Pnina Tamaro-Shata said Thursday morning (24th) to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“We are ready to accept thousands of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine,” said Tamano-Shata.



Palestinians Arrested As Lebanon Thwarts Islamic State Terror Attacks

Lebanese authorities have thwarted attempts by members of the Islamic State (IS) group to carry out three attacks near the capital Beirut that would have inflicted a large number of civilian casualties, the interior minister said Wednesday (23rd).

Bassam Mawlawi said the would-be terrorists, two of whom were detained earlier this month, are all Palestinians who had been recruiting young men to carry out suicide attacks with explosive belts in the predominately Shiite southern suburbs of Beirut, which is a Hezbollah stronghold.

Islamic State (IS) has in the past claimed responsibility for deadly attacks that killed and wounded scores of people in Lebanon.  Such violence has dropped in recent years since the extremist group lost territories it controlled along the Lebanon-Syria border.

There has been concern recently that Lebanon’s severe economic crisis was driving young men, particularly in the impoverished north, to join IS.  Dozens of young Lebanese men have disappeared in northern Lebanon recently and later turned up in Iraq, where they joined IS.  Several Lebanese were among suspected militants killed by Iraqi security forces over the past weeks.

Mawlawi said the attackers were planning to carry out shootings followed by suicide attacks in order to inflict a large number of casualties in areas just south of Beirut, including Ouzai and Lailaki.

He praised Lebanon’s police commander, Maj. Gen. Imad Osman, saying he was a main force in thwarting the attacks.

“This is a message to reassure the Lebanese that security forces are always on alert to protect them,” Mawlawi told reporters.



Saudis Arrest Israeli-Arab For Praising Israel

An Israeli-Arab from the Bedouin town of Rahat was arrested in Saudi Arabia for praising Israel, Ynet reported on Wednesday (23rd).

The man, who was not identified, was visiting Mecca.  While looking for a doctor, the man was instead sent to a pharmacy whose service dissatisfied him.

The man’s family told Ynet he was arrested after he filmed himself criticizing the service he received at the pharmacy.  In the course of his criticisms, seen by a passerby, he praised Israel.

In the video, seen by Ynet, the man could be heard saying, “I gave my name, my father’s name, everything.  I said I wanted to see a doctor, but they sent me to a pharmacy.  I swear to God that our lives are a blessing in our country.  In God’s name, Israel is the greatest country in the world.”

A family member told Ynet, “We’re talking about a man with a disability and diabetes.  He was angry because of the service he received.  When he asked to see a doctor, he said a few things, and was arrested.”

“Since the arrest, we’ve contacted those responsible for this, and they told us that his remand was extended.  They told us that they’ll release him after the umrah,” the relative said, referring to the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

“And I hope he really gets released.  There are even members of the Knesset that got involved and are in touch with the family” the relative added.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations.

In 2020, the Israeli Interior Ministry began allowing Muslim citizens to travel to the kingdom to make the religious pilgrimage.  Israel also has an arrangement with Jordan which provides pilgrims with temporary travel papers.

Around 30,000 Israeli Muslims each year make a pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.



For First Time Romanian Officials Commemorate Holocaust Refugees Killed In Ship 80 Years Ago

Romanian officials for the first time commemorated the victims of the sinking, 80 years years ago, of the Struma, a ship that carried hundreds of Holocaust refugees from Romania.

The ceremony Tuesday (22nd) took place in the coastal city of Constanta in southern Romania, from which the ship set sail in 1941 with 770 refugees, including more than 100 children aboard.

In 1942, a Red Army submarine mistook the Struma for a hostile vessel after Turkish authorities towed it away from its dock in Istanbul and left it in international waters without a working engine or an anchor.  The sub torpedoed the ship, leaving only one survivor.

During the ceremony, which was attended by about 80 people, Romanian Rear Admiral Mihai Panait, who is the top commander of the country’s navy, and Florin Goidea, the director of the Constanta Port, laid wreaths on the waters beside the dock from which the Struma set sail.

“It’s was the first time that Romania officially commemorated the Struma’s tragedy on Romanian soil, and was part of the efforts of successive governments in recent years to face their past and the events of the Holocaust era, when half of their country’s Jewish community was murdered,” David Saranga, Israel’s ambassador to Romania, who also attended the event, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“We commemorate today not only as a tragic event, but we also bring back to our attention the suffering caused by the repression of the Jews during the Second World War,” he said.

Romania was part of the Nazi-Rome-Berlin Axis and an ally to Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

“We must react immediately to combat any form of intolerance, discrimination or racism.  The best answer to such challenges is honest and responsible education,” Panait said.

Saranga in his speech also noted the persecution of Romanian Jews by their countrymen, while inserting a dig at the British: he added that “Romanian Jews would have been able to reach pre-state Israel if it were not for British Authorities’ refusal to let the refugees in, which left them stranded at the mercy of the Turks.”

“For 10 weeks, Struma’s passengers had been abandoned in the port of Istanbul, because of the British government’s refusal to allow their entry to Israel,” he said. 

Saranga told the story of one of the victims, 26-year-old Isac-Itzhak Terkatin, a survivor of the vicious Iași Pogrom of June 1941, which Romanians perpetrated against their Jewish neighbors.  “Terkatim hoped to emigrate to Israel and helped others leave before embarking on the Struma himself, despite the risks,” he said.  “His dream, as well as that of 769 other Jews, perished in the abyss of indifference.”  

Only one person survived.