News Digest — 5/18/20
Airstrikes In Syria Kill 7 Iran-backed Fighters, Israel Blamed
Unknown warplanes attacked Iran-backed fighters in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border killing at least seven Iraqi militiamen, Syrian opposition activists said Sunday (17th).
The strikes late Saturday (16th) targeted a base near the border town of Bukamal, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor.
Omar Abu Laila, a European-based activist from Syria’s eastern Deir el-Zour province, confirmed an airstrike hit Iran-backed Iraqi fighters in the area but gave no exact casualty count. The strike came days after reinforcements were brought into the area from Iraq, said Abu Laila.
Abu Laila, who runs Deir Ezzor 24, an activist-collective that reports on news in the border area, said Israel was most likely behind the attack, but gave no evidence.
Israel rarely comments on such reports, although it has acknowledged carrying out airstrikes inside Syria on numerous occasions over the course of Syria’s bloody nine-year civil war. Israel has vowed not to permit the Iranian military to become entrenched in Syria near its border.
There have recently been several reports of suspected Israeli strikes inside Syria, including on May 4th that left 14 Iranian-backed fighters dead, according to the Observatory.
Netanyahu Wins Confidence Of Knesset, Takes Oath Of Office
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his new unity government to the Knesset on Sunday (17th), ending more than a year of political deadlock.
The Knesset held a confidence vote to approve the newly appointed ministers and to appoint Netanyahu as the head of the new government. Netanyahu then took the oath of office for the fifth time as prime minister.
Netanyahu’s power-sharing agreement with former election rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, opens the way to proceed to the application of Israeli sovereignty over Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as part of the newly released Trump administration peace plan.
Under his accord with Gantz, after three inconclusive elections, Netanyahu will remain prime minister for 18 months before handing over to his new partner, Gantz, a former Israel Defense Forces chief, the premiership. Until then he will be Netanyahu’s defense minister, and second in command in the government.
“The people wanted unity and that is what they got,” Netanyahu told the parliament, citing a desire to avoid a fourth election. He added that “the time has come to extend Israeli sovereignty,” vowing to deliver on his election pledge.
Speaking after him, Gantz said: “Finally there is a government in Israel, the longest political crisis in Israel is now over and it is time to end this era of fragmentation and incitement and begin the era of unity and conciliation.”
Israel’s longest serving leader, Netanyahu, now 70, first came to power in 1996, and has served three consecutive terms since 2009.
With a record 36 ministers, the cabinet will be the largest in Israel’s history, a reflection of weeks of deal-making that bolstered Netanyahu’s reputation as a political survivor.
Israeli Soldier’s Family Asks For Prayer As His Condition Deteriorates
The family of wounded IDF soldier Netanel Felber has again asked the public to pray for his recovery after a recent deterioration in his condition, Arutz-7 reports.
Felber suffered a near-fatal head injury when he was shot by a terrorist at the Givat Assaf Junction in Samaria on December 13, 2018.
Felber underwent a cranioplasty this past Wednesday (13th), just four days before his 23rd birthday. After the surgery he suffered seizures and had to be intubated.
An emergency prayer vigil was held Thursday (14th) at the Western Wall for his recovery.
Two of Felber’s fellow soldiers, Yosef Cohen and Yovel Mor Yosef, were both killed in the December 2018 attack. All three served in the Netzah Yehuda Kfir Brigade, a special unit for religious soldiers. A civilian, Shira Sabag, was also wounded in the attack.
Asam Barghouti, son of BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, later confessed to carrying out the attack during which he got out of his car and opened fire at people standing at a bus stop.
Asam Barghouti also confessed to committing a similar attack with his brother Salah a few days earlier in which the unborn child of Shira Ish-Ran was killed. Salah Barghouti was shot dead resisting arrest by the IDF.
Tomb Of Mordechai And Esther Reportedly Set On Fire
The Tomb of Mordechai and Esther, located in the Iranian city of Hamadan, was reportedly set on fire overnight Thursday (14th).
Jonathan Greenblatt, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported the incident on Twitter on Friday (15th).
“Disturbing reports from Iran, that the Tomb of Esther & Mordechai, a holy Jewish site, was set afire overnight. We hope that the authorities bring the perpetrators of this anti-Semitic act to justice & commit to protecting the holy sites of all religious minorities in Iran,” he wrote.
The reported incident was also condemned by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“We are outraged by reports that the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan, Iran, was desecrated by arson last night,” said Arthur Stark, Chairman, William Daroff, CEO, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair of the Conference of Presidents.
“Since February, members of the Iranian Basij have threatened to raze the tomb of historic Jewish heroes Mordechai and Queen Esther. It appears that these domestic terrorists attempted to carry out this outrageous act of desecration with this premeditated attack,” they added.
“This abhorrent and unconscionable act represents not only a blatantly anti-Semitic assault on Jews and Judaism, but an assault on all people of faith. It must be unequivocally condemned by the international community. The government of Iran must act to prevent further attacks and bring to justice those responsible,” concluded the Jewish leaders.
In February it was reported that the government was threatening to demolish the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther and turn it into a “Palestinian” consular complex.
The Tomb of Mordechai and Esther was added to the Iranian National Heritage list in 2008 but was removed from that list in 2011.
‘Americans Will Be Expelled From Iraq And Syria,’ Claims Iranian Leader
During a video conference on Sunday (17th), Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei railed against the United States. An excerpt of Khamenei’s comments were posted to his official website and Twitter feed.
“The US government’s long-term performance has led to its being abhorred by a majority of the world, its warmongering, helping notorious governments, training terrorists, unconditional support for oppression and the like,” read the statement on Khamenei’s website.
“The Americans won’t stay in Iraq and Syria, they’ll be expelled,” he added.
Khamenei issued the statement ahead of Quds Day in Iran, an annual event held on the last Friday of Ramadan that serves as a platform for the Iranian regime to threaten Israel and its allies.
Iran is sworn to the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state and bankrolls regional terrorist-proxies that pursue this goal, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
Hours before Khamenei tweeted his comments regarding the expulsion of Americans from Iraq and Syria, he tweeted anti-Israel comments claiming that “the Zionist regime’s status in global public opinion is now worse than any time in its dark history, and the reason for its inception is seriously questioned.”
Khamenei added, “Global protests from Asia to Latin America and Europe show that a global resistance has been formed against Zionism.”
The Iranian leader also condemned the UK, tweeting, “Britain has always been a source of evil and catastrophe for the nations in our region. They’ve hurt the lives of nations in ways unparalleled in the world.”
While Iranian officials and ministries maintain Twitter accounts, the regime blocks Iranian citizens from accessing the popular social media site, a strategy also used by China and North Korea.