News Digest — 2/29/24

Defense Minister To Lloyd Austin: ‘Israel Won’t Tolerate Threats Against Its Citizens’

On Wednesday night (28th), Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke with the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about the progress of the war in Gaza.

Minister Gallant briefed the Secretary on the IDF’s recent achievement in the destruction of dozens of kilometers of Hamas terror tunnels in Gaza.

During his briefing, the Israeli Minister reiterated the defense establishment’s determination to continue operating until the removal of all threats, including: the destruction of Hamas battalions, the elimination of Hamas leadership and the return of all hostages.

In discussing the hostage crisis, Minister Gallant emphasized the importance of U.S. leadership and international pressure to achieve a framework that will enable hostages to return to their homes.

The parties also discussed the northern arena with Minister Gallant detailing ongoing attacks conducted by Hezbollah on Israel’s northern communities.  He stressed that the State of Israel will not tolerate threats against its citizens and violations of its sovereignty, and will take the measures required to ensure their security.

The Minister concluded the call by expressing his appreciation to Secretary Austin for his commitment to Israel’s security, and reflecting the Administration’s support and partnership,



Syrian Media Claims Israel Struck 3 Locations Near Capital, 2 Hezbollah Operatives Reportedly Killed

Syrian media claimed that Israel on Wednesday (28th) struck 3 locations near Damascus and that 2 Hezbollah operatives were killed.  State media gave no further details about the attacks or the intended targets.  Pro-Iranian Lebanese television at Mayadeen said a big explosion was heard in the heavily fortified Sayeda Zainab neighborhood of the Syrian capital where a major Shiite shrine is located.

Syrian air defenses intercepted some of the strikes in the vicinity of the capital, state media said on Wednesday (28th).

Elements associated with the Syrian opposition forces reported fatalities among Hezbollah fighters, and that the missiles struck sites belonging to the terror organization and pro-Iranian militias.  Sources affiliated with the Assad regime reported that one of the targets in the strike was a military site named after the martyr Hitham Suleiman, located on the outskirts of the Bebila suburb.  According to a radio station close to the regime, the strike also hit the village of Hajira and one of the points in the Al-Sayyidah Zainab neighborhood.  Firefighting crews were dispatched to the scenes.  The Syrian opposition reported loud explosions at three sites belonging to pro-Iranian militias.  There was also a reported fire that broke out in the Al-Yarmouk neighborhood in southern Damascus.  It is unclear whether this was debris from an air defense missile or the result of the strike itself.

Regional intelligence sources say Iran’s Quds Force and militias it backs, whose presence has spread in Syria in recent years, have a strong presence in the Sayeda Zainab neighborhood of southern Damascus where Iranian-backed militias have a string of underground bases.  Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict.

Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.

Those strikes have ramped up during the Gaza war, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.



Hamas Chief Calls For Arab Riots On Temple Mount During Ramadan

Hamas chairman and former Palestinian Authority premier Ismail Haniyeh called for mass riots on the Temple Mount during the upcoming Islamic holy month of Ramadan in the hopes of escalating tensions at the holy site.

During an interview with the Hezbollah-aligned television network  Al-Manar, Haniyeh called Wednesday (28th) on Palestinian Arabs to “barricade themselves” inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque ahead of Ramadan, in order to break “the siege” on the Temple Mount.

Ramadan, which this year begins on March 10th and lasts through April 9th is often marked by violent clashes and Arab terror attacks across Israel, with tensions highest in and around the Temple Mount.

Given the ongoing war against Hamas and Hezbollah and the elevated terror risk throughout the country, the Israeli government is considering limiting the number of visitors to the Temple Mount during Ramadan.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the plan, saying it constituted a declaration of a “holy war” on Muslim pilgrims.

On Wednesday (28th), Haniyeh called for “a broad and international movement to break the siege on Al-Aqsa Mosque,” with rioters barricading themselves inside the mosque in defiance of the limits imposed by police.

Haniyeh also on Wednesday (28th) said “The occupation and its partner, the United States, will not be able to achieve through political machinations what they did not achieve in combat.  The world, especially Arab states, must restrain the enemy and refuse to let them invade the city of Rafah.”



New Zealand Designates All Of Hamas Including Its Political Wing As A Terrorist Entity

New Zealand announced on Wednesday (28th) that it had designated Hamas in its entirety, meaning with its armed wing as well as its political wing, as a terrorist entity.

The announcement was made in a joint statement by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

“The terrorist attacks by Hamas in October 2023 were brutal and we have unequivocally condemned them,” Luxon said.

 Following these attacks, the statement noted, ‘then-prime minister Chris Hipkins commissioned advice from officials about designating the entirety of Hamas as terrorists, which has now been received.”

Peters noted that New Zealand had designated the military wing of Hamas as a terrorist entity since 2010.

“But what happened on October 7 reinforces that we can no longer distinguish between the military and political wings of Hamas.  The organization as a whole bears responsibility for these horrific terrorist attacks,” said the New Zealand Foreign Minister.

“A designation under New Zealand legislation freezes any assets of the terrorist entity in New Zealand.”  It also makes it “a criminal offense to carry out property or finance transactions with them or provide material support,” the statement noted.

Luxon made clear in the statement that “the designation of Hamas is about the actions of an offshore terrorist entity and is not a reflection of the Palestinian people in Gaza and around the world.”

“This designation targets Hamas, not the provision of private humanitarian support to Palestinian civilians.  Similarly, the designation does not stop New Zealand providing humanitarian and future development assistance to benefit civilians in Gaza nor does it stop us providing consular support to New Zealand citizens or permanent residents in the conflict zone,” he added.

The German government implemented a ban on Hamas on November 2nd.  Following the ban, hundreds of police officers searched the properties of Hamas members and followers in Germany.

The Swiss government announced last week that it would outlaw Hamas in light of its massacre in southern Israel on October 7.  The move will allow for the prohibition of Hamas members from entering Switzerland and the deportation of them from the country.



10 UK Lawmakers Admit Fearing For Their Safety Amid Abuse Over Pro-Israel Views

Ten members of the UK Parliament told Reuters they feared for their safety after receiving relentless harassment and abuse from supporting Israel.

One MP said they faced a full 10-minute barrage of verbal abuse, including being called “genocide enablers” and being told they had “blood on their hands.”

The Opposition Labour Party member said he now limits his meetings with the public and always makes sure he is seated next to a door in public.

Some MPs said they were considering installing safe rooms and wearing stab-proof vests.

The UK’s Interior Ministry is beefing up protection for lawmakers with $39 million spent on security provisions that would keep “democratic processes from disruption.”

In the UK, extremist violence has claimed the lives of two lawmakers, one in 2016 and another in 2021 to an adherent of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Conservative MP Mike Freer, who represented London’s Jewish neighborhoods of Golders Green and Finchley, resigned in late December after his office was attacked by an arsonist.

Freer said he was attacked and targeted for his pro-Israel views leading to his leaving Parliament.  Freer was a staunch supporter of Israel’s military operation to eliminate Hamas following the October 7th massacre.  He had served in Parliament since 2010.  In 2014, he resigned as Parliamentary secretary so he could vote against the resolution to recognize Palestine as a state.



Hezbollah Has Taken Lebanon Into A Risky Conflict With Israel – Michael Young

Lebanon’s former president Michel Aoun has been broadly critical of Hezbollah’s decision to intervene on Hamas’ side in the Gaza conflict.  Aoun declared: “We are not linked to Gaza through a defense treaty.  A part of the Lebanese population has made a choice [not to enter the war], saying that participation in the war to preempt an Israeli attack, is merely an opinion.  Entering into a confrontation may not reduce the danger, but increase it.

Aoun was making a larger point.  Hezbollah has effectively hijacked the state’s prerogative to declare war, and it has taken Lebanon into a risky conflict with Israel that could, if things go wrong, lead to the country’s destruction.  Most Lebanese, including many within the Shiite community, don’t want a war with Israel.  Lebanon suffered greatly in the past, and while many Lebanese sympathize with the people of Gaza, they do not want to see their country again pay a price for such solidarity.

The writer is a senior editor at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. (The National – UAE)



My Friends In Canada Told Me To Come Home, But I’m Doing Something Meaningful In Israel – Danna Frank

Jay Deering, 60, who lives in British Columbia, wears a Magen David Adom rescue service patch on his vest.  He said in an interview, “I work in aviation engineering, specializing in helicopters.  The company I work for is a supplier for Magen David Adom, which now has an airborne unit … Most helicopter pilots in Israel have experience with military helicopters.  These are more civilian ones.  I’ve worked a lot overseas … I always work for a month and a half, and then I have a month and a half off.”

“I help train local pilots and lend a hand in the daily maintenance of the helicopters … I happened to be here when the war started.  I was the only helicopter technician of this sort in the country.  I went back and forth between military bases in the north and in the south, because the helicopters have to be authorized by a maintenance person every day… I was there 75 days before others on the team calmed down a little and agreed to come back to work.”

“If I had left, there wouldn’t have been anyone to sign off on the helicopters and they would have become useless, they wouldn’t have been able to fly… I didn’t want to leave.  All my friends in Canada told me to come home immediately, but I told them, I’m doing something meaningful here, I have a purpose, I’m helping.  I don’t want to leave.  And besides there’s Iron Dome.”

“I really like Israel, even from before the war.  People here are very nice and friendly.  I feel very safe here.  It’s one of the nicest places I’ve worked anywhere in the world.”

Q:  Do you feel comfortable walking around with a Magen David Adom patch?

Deering:  “For sure.  I’m a Christian but I’m part of MDA and I’m proud of it.  I know all their paramedics.  When I come back in another six weeks there will be big hugs.  It’s a real family, especially once I stayed on during the war.”