News Digest — 4/25/19

Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau Issues Travel Warnings To Sri Lanka

Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau on Thursday (25th) issued a travel warning for Israelis planning to visit Sri Lanka, saying there was a “high and concrete” chance of a terror attack.

The Bureau has set a Level-2 travel warning, which is the second highest.

This comes just days after Easter Sunday”s (21st) nine suicide bombings that killed 359 people and injured over 500 across the country.

The agency stressed that Israeli travelers still in Sri Lanka should leave the island at the soonest possible time, and also advised those planning trips to cancel.

The decision to issue the warnings was made after consultations with security officials and the Foreign Ministry.

The Sri Lankan authorities on Thursday (25th) ordered the country’s religious leaders to keep all churches closed and not to hold prayer services until security improves, one church leader told AFP.

“There will be no public services until further notice,” he told the news agency.

The bombings shattered the relative calm that has existed in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka since a civil war against mostly Hindu, ethnic Tamil separatists ended 10 years ago, and raised fears of a return to sectarian violence.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people include minority Christians, Muslims and Hindus. Until now, Christians had largely managed to avoid the worst of the island’s conflicts.



Netanyahu Vows To Empower Druze: ‘You Are Part Of Us, We Are Part Of You’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday (24th) said he wished to “empower” Israel’s Druze population and vowed to address the community’s needs and concerns.

The past year has seen the community, considered to be relatively well integrated with Jewish Israelis, express misgivings and anger over the passage of a quasi-constitutional law that enshrined Israel as the exclusive nation-state of the Jewish people.

On the occasion of the Druze holiday of Ziyarat al-Nabi Shu’ayb, Netanyahu said in a statement: “I view empowering the Druze population as very important.  We have enacted policies of increased investment in Druze communities in order to minimize gaps and increase equal opportunity.”

He said, “I am attuned to your needs, your difficulties, your concerns.  I vow to address them thoroughly. You are part of us, and we are part of you.”

The Israeli Druze, who follow a 1,000-year-old offshoot of Shiite Islam, have historically made major contributions to public service in the country, with many serving in the Israel Defense Forces alongside their Jewish countrymen.

But many have expressed disappointment with the law, saying it lessened their place in society.

While Netanyahu has met with groups of Druze leaders to discuss their concerns about the nation-state law, he has also continued to defend the legislation.

He has contended that the law was necessary to ensure that, “Israel remains not just democratic, but also the nation-state of the Jewish people, and of the Jewish people.”



IDF Soldier Born To Gaza Parents Commended For Excellence – Korin Elbaz Alush

He was born to Muslim parents who relocated from the Gaza Strip to Israel some 30 years ago, and in two weeks time – on Independence Day – he is going to be a recipient of a special citation of excellence from the head of his division.  Ironically, the family lives in Sderot, a city that has for years been suffering from rocket attacks fired by Gaza militants.

21-year-old Staff Sergeant A., is a career soldier in the Technology and Logistics Division and is currently preparing for an officer’s course he is about to start.

His parents moved to Israel when the borders were still open.  They managed to successfully assimilate and build new lives over the border where they became parents to two sons, one of whom is Sergeant A.  The two boys decided to convert to Judaism and later enlist in the Israel Defense Forces.

Sergeant A. began his service supervising military workshops and was later appointed as the head of the planning and development division.  In the last few months, before deciding to sign-up for the officer’s course, he served as operations officer of his platoon.

“I didn;t think I’d be able to achieve that, it’s a dream come true,” Sergeant A. said about receiving the citation of excellence.  “Since I became a career soldier, I’ve worked insane hours and tried to do my best. I’m happy that it’s been appreciated because they told me they’re giving me the citation for my hard work.”

The soldier said his parents are also Israeli patriots and his father had dreamt about his sons enlisting in the military.  “Our parents are very excited about the ceremony,” he said, adding that when he told his father he’s going to be an officer, the father cried tears of joy.

“My family is the main source of my strength – I have complete support from them,” he added.  He celebrated the Passover with his parents at their house.

His fellow soldiers say he doesn’t try to hide his Gaza roots from his friends or the military.  But he tells everyone, “I’m Jewish and Israeli, and am proud of myself and my parents who chose to come to Israel.



Egyptian Voters Approve Referendum Extending President’s Rule

Voters in Egypt approved constitutional amendments allowing President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to remain in power until 2030, election officials said Tuesday (23rd).

Al-Sissi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president amid mass protests against his rule in 2013 and has since presided over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent.

Lasheen Ibrahim, the head of Egypt’s National Election Authority, told a news conference the amendments to the 2014 constitution were approved by 88.83% of turnout voters.

Generally, the amendments extend the president’s term in office from four to six years and allow for a maximum of two terms.  But they also include a special article specific to el-Sissi that extends his current second four-year term to six years and allows him to run for another six-year term in 2024 – potentially extending his rule until 2030.

Al-Sissi was elected president in 2014 and re-elected last year after all potentially serious challengers were jailed or pressured to exit the race.

Parliament overwhelmingly approved the amendments last week, with only 22 no votes and one abstention from 554 lawmakers in attendance.

The nationwide referendum took place over a three-day period to maximize turnout.  Egypt has some 61 million eligible voters.



Israeli Arab Woman Helped ISIS Plan Terror Attacks On U.S. Water Sources – Liam Stack

Waheba Issa Dais, 46, a permanent legal resident of the U.S. who was born in Israel, pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State, authorities said Monday (22nd).  She recruited new members, encouraged supporters who said they wanted to launch terrorist attacks, and shared plans for building explosives from her suburban Milwaukee home, prosecutors said.

Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, said Dais had been a “key voice online….She wasn’t just a connector, she was providing some level of skill to individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have it.”  Dais posted how-to videos, providing step-by-step instructions on how to build explosives, including how to build an explosive belt worn by suicide bombers, the Justice Department said.

She also used Facebook to share a recipe for Ricin, a deadly poison.  She said it could be especially useful in an attack against a government facility or a city water reservoir.