News Digest — 5/3/21

Israel Observes National Day Of Mourning To Honor 45 Mount Meron Victims

Israel marked a national day of mourning on Sunday (2nd) following the deaths of 45 worshipers during the Lag B’Omer festivities at Mount Meron (4/29), the worst civilian tragedy in the country’s history.

The Cabinet approved on Friday (4/30) the proposal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to declare a day of national mourning.

National flags were lowered to half-mast at public buildings, IDF bases and Israeli missions abroad.

President Reuven Rivlin lit 45 memorial candles outside Beit HaNassi on Friday (4/30) in memory of the victims of the Mt. Meron tragedy.

“This is a terribly painful day.  A heartbreaking tragedy.  Our prayers and thoughts are with those injured and with the families of those killed and missing in the awful tragedy at Har Meron.  I sent my heartfelt thanks to those working without a break since last night to rescue and give medical treatment.  This is the time to embrace the families, to help all those looking for their loved ones and to take those injured to our hearts – to weep together,” he said.

The Jerusalem Municipality illuminated the walls of the Old City with flags as a sign of solidarity with the heavy mourning of the families of the victims.

Dozens of people gathered at the center of Tel Aviv on Saturday night (1st) to light candles in memory of the victims and mourn the tragedy together.

Thousands of Israelis, including Netanyahu, donated blood for the injured victims.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin decided that the Knesset plenum will hold a special mourning session on Monday (3rd).

Knesset members will be allowed to light memorial candles at the entrance to the Knesset building.

“Our hearts go out to the families who lost their loved ones in the heavy disaster.  On behalf of the entire Knesset, I send my best wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded,” said Levin.

All the victims were identified by the Institute of Forensic Medicine.  Some of the victims were buried on Friday (4/30) and Saturday night (1st).  The rest were buried Sunday (2nd).



3 Wounded, 2 Critically, In Samaria Terror Attack

Just hours after an attempted terror attack was foiled on Sunday morning (2nd), a terrorist wounded three people in a shooting attack near the town of Kfar Tapuach in Samaria.

According to Hebrew-language reports, the attack late Sunday afternoon (2nd) was a drive-by shooting.  The perpetrators fired upon a group of people waiting at a bus stop, then drove away.

The IDF said in a statement that troops stationed nearby had “returned fire at the vehicle, which fled the scene.  Security and military officials are actively searching for the vehicle involved in the incident and set up roadblocks in the area.”

“When I arrived, I saw three young people each with varying levels of injuries,” said United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Menachem Bakush.

“One was in critical condition, one in serious condition and one in moderate condition.  After receiving initial treatment at the scene, they were all transported to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikvah.”

The three men are all in their 20s.  Hours after the attack, two were still in critical condition, while one had lighter injuries.

Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan told reporters at the scene that “this is a serious incident.”

Addressing the Palestinian terrorists, Dagan said, “You will never break us.”

Hamas released a statement praising the attack, calling it a “natural response to the crimes of the Zionist occupation and an act of support for our people in the city of Jerusalem.”

Palestinian Jihad called the drive-by shooting a “courageous operation.”

“I send best wishes for the recovery of the people who were wounded in the vicious shooting attack at Tapuach Junction,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“The security forces are in pursuit of the terrorists and I am certain that they will apprehend them as soon as possible.  We will not allow terrorism to raise its head and we will strike our enemies with force,” he added.



Mossad Chief Discussed Iran With Biden In Hour-Long Meeting

Mossad Director Yossi Cohen had a full hour-long meeting with US President Joe Biden over the weekend, The Jerusalem Post learned.

Channel 12 first reported late Saturday (1st) that there had been an interaction between the two on Friday (4/30) in the course of Cohen’s other meetings but the US State Department declined to comment on the meeting or even to confirm that it had taken place. 

Next a spokesman for the US National Security Council said that Biden had merely dropped by unplanned during another of Cohen’s meetings to convey condolences regarding the Mount Meron disaster.

This description appeared to attempt to underplay the significance of the meeting as less substantive and more a courtesy moment before getting on with the day’s work.

Despite these after-the-fact characterizations, and a clear attempt by at least some Biden officials to downplay the meeting, the Post has learned that actually, a full sit-down meeting had taken place and it lasted an hour.  That’s not a short ‘meet and greet’ for the US president.

CIA Director William Burns was also present with Biden and Cohen as they discussed Iran in depth.

Initially, Cohen was only supposed to meet with his counterpart Burns, while Israeli Security Council Chief Ben Shabbat, and IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.Gen. Aviv Kochavi participated in other meetings.

No one was even talking about meeting Biden, who had not yet met in person with any Israeli official since his election.

In any event, whether this happened because Cohen impressed Biden’s team more than they expected, or whether Biden himself spontaneously surprised his team by reaching out to Cohen himself (whom he has known for years) or due to another reason, Israel got its “day in court” and in front of the most important “judge.”



Iran Announces Prisoner Deal With West, Expected To Receive $7B In Frozen Funds

Iran will free prisoners with western ties in exchange for billions of dollars from the United States and the United Kingdom, state television reported Sunday (2nd).  The US and the UK did not immediately acknowledge any swap.

The state TV report quoted an anonymous official just as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei began giving what authorities earlier described as an “important” speech.  However, Khamenei did not immediately discuss any proposed swap amid negotiations in Vienna over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.

The official quoted by Iran state TV said a deal made between the US and Tehran involved a prisoner swap in exchange for the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds.  State TV also quoted the officials as saying a deal had been reached for the United Kingdom to pay 400 million pounds to see the release of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Meanwhile, the State Department denied the report on a prisoner swap.  “Reports that a prisoner swap deal has been reached with Iran are not true.  As we have said, we always raise the cases of Americans detained or missing in Iran.  We will not stop until we are able to reunite them with their families,” Spokesman Ned Price said.



Anti-Israel Vandal Defaces Germany Holocaust Memorial

Three stepping stones memorializing victims of the Holocaust were defaced with anti-Israel graffiti in the German city of Cologne on Saturday night (1st).

Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported that the three brass blocks inlaid in the street were overwritten with the letters “BDS” – the acronym of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to harm Israel economically with the goal of dismantling it and replacing it with a Palestinian Arab state.

BDS is widely regarded in the Jewish community as anti-Semitic, and is listed as such in the widely-adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

Called Stolpersteine or “stumbling blocks,” the stones commemorate Jews who lived in nearby homes before being deported to Nazi death camps and murdered.  They are present in many European cities as part of a Pan-European project of Holocaust remembrance that began in 1992.



World War II Mass Grave Of Holocaust Victims Uncovered In Belarus

Nearly two years after a mass grave of Holocaust victims was uncovered in Brest, Belarus, the country discovered another grave near the village of Logoza.  On April 30, multiple media sources uploaded images of the sixteen and a half feet deep grave and the human remains lying inside at the site.

The images which belong to the Anadolu news agency, showed bone fragments and skeletons, some with bullets in their skulls and others with shoes strewn beside their bodies..  Ammunition and personal objects, including a key and a comb were also displayed in the photos.

The head of the State Forensic Examination Committee of Belarus, Alexi Volkov, said the investigation team will work to identify the bodies at the site.

Most of the victims in the Belarus World War II mass shootings were women, children and the elderly, reported BelTA, a Belarus news agency.

Prior to the discovery, some 1,214 bodies were discovered in May 2019, in a mass grave in the city of Brest, where the Jewish ghetto was situated during the Holocaust.

Following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, mass shootings committed by the Einsatzgruppen, other German soldiers, police forces and local collaborators began across Eastern Europe and continued into 1943, during which some 1.5 million Jews were murdered in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Eastern Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and Yugoslavia.

Overall, the Nazis killed three million civilians in Belarus, of whom 800,000 were Jewish.