News Digest — 3/1/21

Israeli Airstrike Targets Damascus Area, Says Syria

Syrian air defenses were activated in the capital Damascus and the southern suburbs Sunday night (2/28) to repel an Israeli missile strike, state media reported.

There was no word on casualties.

State TV quoted an unnamed military official who claimed that some of the Israeli missiles were shot down before reaching their targets.

Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran-linked terror targets in Syria over the years, but rarely acknowledges or discusses such operations.

Israel has regularly communicated to Tehran and the international community that Iranian entrenchment on its northern border is a red line, and it has repeatedly struck Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, which seeks the complete destruction of the Jewish State.

The Israeli strike comes after the United States launched attacks in Syria on Thursday (2/25), targeting facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups.

The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a missile attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded coalition troops including US soldiers.



Pompeo: Many In Saudi Arabia Seek Normalization With Israel

“Many people in Saudi Arabia want normalization relations with Israel.  I hope the Kingdom will join the Abraham Accords,” said former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday (2/28).

Pompeo, who served as US President Donald Trump’s CIA director and then top diplomat, made the comments in a recorded video address to the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement, which will give him its inaugural Global Leadership Award on Monday (1st).

Under the Abraham Accords brokered by Trump last year, four majority Arab states – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – agreed to establish ties with Israel.

The Israeli press was rife with speculation about other Arab nations interested in joining that pact, with powerhouse Saudi Arabia widely regarded as a top prize for the Jewish state.

“Predicting the future has proven a struggle for me,” Pompeo said in remarks shared with Agence France Presse (AFP), adding that he thinks “many more” countries will seek ties with Israel.

“I hope that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can find its way to join the Abraham Accords.  I know that many inside the country want that to take place,” he noted.

Sources in Jerusalem have said Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in November in the Red Sea city of Neom.

The meeting denied by Riyadh, fueled frenzied speculation in Israel that a normalization deal might be close.



Return To Ancient Times: Israelis Make Pilgrimage To Jerusalem On Foot To Avoid Corona Checkpoints

It was a return to ancient times as religious Jews visited Jerusalem on foot for the holiday of Purim on Sunday (2/28).  They were avoiding checkpoints set up to stop them.

Purim isn’t one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals when Jews were obliged to go up to Jerusalem (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), but this year it was Purim that resembled what most of those holidays might have looked like in ancient times.

Purim was celebrated on Friday (2/26) for most people, but due to a religious rule it is celebrated a day later in walled cities.  As the Sabbath came between, it was pushed off still one day more to Sunday (2/28).

Showing a gap in its religious knowledge, Israel’s government declared a lockdown from Thursday (2/25) to Saturday (2/27) during the religious holiday to prevent gatherings that could spread the coronavirus, conspicuously forgetting about the rule concerning walled cities.

This left a large loophole for people to celebrate the holiday without running afoul of the authorities.  In an attempt to recover after the fact, the government set up roadblocks around Jerusalem on Sunday (2/28), effectively turning it into a walled city of old and creating snarling traffic.

Website N12 reported that after the sight of hundreds of parties in Tel Aviv and Haifa in disregard of the corona restrictions, police were determined to stop the same from happening in Jerusalem.  “In order to prevent worshipers from attending the synagogues and mass holiday events, public transportation to and from the city was stopped and checkpoints were set up at all entrances and exits,” N12 reported.

This didn’t stop the even more determined citizens from getting through.  The TV station said videos showed “dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews marching on foot to the capital in an attempt to overcome the barriers restricting traffic.”

“Meanwhile, spontaneous street parties were held in the city center and in the Mahane Yehuda market.  Apart from the residents of the city, families with children from all over the country were also seen,” the site reported.



Report: Russian Army Searches Syrian Cemeteries For Eli Cohen’s Remains

The Russian military conducted searches in Syria a few days ago for the remains of famed Israeli spy Eli Cohen.  The London-based Arabic news outlet Rai Al-Youm reported Saturday (2/27).

According to the unconfirmed report, the searches focused on the cemetery in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.

Rai Al-Youm claimed to be quoting a “senior official” in the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who said that Russia and Syria had recently stepped up searches for Cohen’s body, which has been missing since he was executed in Damascus in the 1960s.  The news outlet said the Russians were putting pressure on the Assad regime to provide information about where Cohen was buried, but it appears that officials in the regime do not have the information, as Cohen’s remains were exhumed and removed when Assad’s father, Hafez Assad, was still in power.

The report also said that the recent searches outraged Palestinian terrorist organizations in Syria, who claimed the presence of non-Muslim soldiers in the camp’s cemetery “desecrated” the honor of “martyrs” buried there.

Saturday’s (2/27) claim comprised the second report this month about the Russian army conducting searches in the Yarmouk cemetery, which came on the heels of a Russian-brokered prisoner exchange to secure the return of a young Israeli woman who voluntarily crossed the Syrian border.

Earlier in February, Russia’s RT television ran footage supposedly showing Cohen walking around the neighborhood in which he lived while under-cover in Damascus.  The footage dates from the same year Cohen was exposed by Syrian intelligence.



DM Gantz: Signs Order Declaring PFLP ‘Front Group’ A Terrorist Organization

Minister of Defense Benny Gantz signed an order declaring “Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity” also known as “Samidoun,” as a terrorist organization, on the recommendation of the National Headquarters for Economic Warfare against Terrorism and the Shabak.

Samidoun was declared a terrorist organization for being part of the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” (PFLP), and was established by its activists in 2012.  Its representatives operate in many countries in Europe and North America and it is headed by Khaled Barakat, a senior member of the PFLP abroad, who has been involved in the establishment of military cells and encouraging terror activity in Judea and Samaria.    

The organization’s formal purpose is to assist Palestinian terrorists in their “struggle” to be released from prison, but in practice it serves as a front for the PFLP both locally and abroad.

The organization also plays a leading and significant role in propaganda campaigns conducted by the PFLP against Israel, mobilizes resources and activists and disseminates the teachings of the PFLP, complementing the violent terror activity conducted by the PFLP against Israel.

“Defense Minister Gantz and defense officials will continue to take steps to thwart and enforce the law against attempts by the PFLP terrorist organization and the bodies acting on its behalf to harm Israel’s security,” Gantz’s office said in a statement.