News Digest — 6/30/21

Death Toll Reaches 11 As Rescue Efforts In Miami Continue

Tuesday (29th) marked the fifth day of search and rescue efforts following the partial collapse of a 12-story residential building in the community of Surfside, Florida.  The death toll rose to 11 after searchers found two victims on Monday (28th).  Rescue teams continue to race to find 150 people still missing.

An Israeli delegation, composed of Home Front Command specialists, is on-site, assisting the life-saving efforts by mapping out the disaster site and supporting the local rescue forces.

Israel’s Consul General in Miami Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, who took office only a week before the disaster, has been working around the clock to assist the victims’ families.

“Just telling you what I have been through in the last few days makes me want to cry,” he said.  “Two days ago, I had a very difficult meeting with the families of victims.  This is an incredibly tragic event.  It is hard to understand how this happened.  It was a building in the United States, in a modern city, it simply collapsed in the middle of the night.”

“I haven’t been to the consulate since Wednesday (23rd), and my entire staff has been sent out to locations where they could be of help.  One of the staff members is with the families at a hotel, while another one is with the American Jewish Committee.”

“The Red Cross contacted me and said, ‘This is a list of medications that people who have been left without a roof over their heads need.’  I told them to take my credit card and use it.”  

According to Elbaz, there are still difficult days ahead, with funerals and mourning.

“We are a beacon for those families, and not just for the Jews, but everyone.  There is still hope, but very little of it, and I will not be the one to take it away from these families.”

In the meantime, rescuers began to use heavy machinery to remove large concrete pieces.  Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said his team had to proceed with caution, for “moving unstable structures could lead to a much worse result.”

Families whose loved ones were in the building remain hopeful.

“We are just waiting for answers,” said Dianne Ohayom, whose parents, Myriam and Arnie Notkin lived in the building.  “That’s all we want.  And right now, we don’t have a single answer.”



Hezbollah Leader, Hamas Chief Talk Recent Gaza War In Beirut

The top leaders of the terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas held talks in Beirut on Tuesday (29th) about last month’s 11-day war with Israel in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Lebanon on Sunday (27th) and met with several top officials, including President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

On Tuesday (29th), Haniyeh and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah discussed how they can build on the experience of the latest round of violence.  The bruising war caused widespread destruction in Gaza.

There were no comments after the meeting that brought Nasrallah and Haniyeh together.  It was the first between the two since September.

During the war, Hamas and other terrorist groups fired over 4,000 missiles into Israel with dozens of projectiles flying as far north as Tel Aviv and many others errantly landing inside Gaza, killing Palestinians.

Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006 that ended in a draw.

Haniyeh recently visited Egypt for Palestinian reconciliation talks and later visited Morocco and Mauritania before arriving in Lebanon.



US Praises Opening Of Israeli Embassy In UAE

The US State Department released a statement praising the opening of the Israeli embassy in the United Arab Emirates Tuesday (29th).

“The United States welcomes the historic opening of the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the visit of Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, for the ceremony hosted by UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.  Foreign Minister Lapid’s trip, the first to the UAE by an Israeli Foreign Minister, and the opening of the first Israeli Embassy in a Gulf State are significant for Israel, the UAE and the broader region.  The United States will continue to work with Israel and the UAE as we strengthen all aspects of our partnerships and work to create a more peaceful, secure and prosperous future for all the peoples of the Middle East,” the statement said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid marked the opening of Israel’s embassy in the United Arab Emirates Tuesday afternoon (29th) in a ceremony in the capital city of Abu Dhabi.

Lapid helped affix a mezuzah in the new embassy building during the ceremony, and offered his thanks to former Prime Minister and long-time political rival, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“This is an historic moment,” said Lapid.  “And it is a reminder that history is created by people.  People who understand history but are willing to change it.  People who prefer the future to the past.  We are standing here today because we chose to.  Peace over war.  Cooperation over conflict.  The good of our children over the bad memories of the past.  The right to determine our fate by ourselves.”

“Israel wants peace with its neighbors.  With all its neighbors.  We aren’t going anywhere.  The Middle East is our home.  We’re here to stay.  We call on all the countries of the region to recognize that.  And to come talk to us.”

“I want to thank on behalf of us all, Israel’s former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the architect of the Abraham Accords and who worked tirelessly to bring them about.  This moment is his, no less than it is ours,” Lapid continued.



Amid West Bank Protests Journalists Ask UN For Protection Against Palestinian Authority

About 50 Palestinian journalists demonstrated in Ramallah on Monday (28th) in the name of freedom of the press in the West Bank and called on the UN to “protect” them following an outbreak of violence during a number of rallies against the Palestinian Authority.

The demonstrations of recent days have been punctuated by clashes between protesters and the police.

Journalists also reported having been assaulted by police, which have been mobilized en masse.

In view of the violations of journalists’ freedom to cover the rallies, a letter was submitted to the United Nations, which called on the international body to take “necessary and immediate measures” to protect local journalists, said Naila Khalil, a Palestinian reporter for the Al-Arabi Al-jdid newspaper.

Also present in front of the UN premises in Ramallah, Mohammed Gharafi, a journalist for the news site Ultra Palestine, said that he was threatened by Palestinian security forces with having his phone confiscated if he did not stop filming them.

Earlier footage taken by Gharafi shows in particular female journalists being attacked by men in civilian clothes, suspected of belonging to the police.

On Sunday (27th), the Palestinian Journalists Union called for the police chief’s dismissal for “failing to protect journalists who have been assaulted and threatened by plainclothesmen in plain sight of the police.

PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Monday (28th) called for “respect for press freedom” and called on “everyone to exercise a higher sense of responsibility.’

Activist Nizar Banat who died Thursday (24th), was known for his videos posted on social media criticizing the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, whom he accused of corruption.

Banat’s family accuses the Palestinian security forces of having “murdered” him.

Shtayyeh on Monday (28th) promised that the investigation into his death would be “professional and transparent,” adding those responsible “will be brought before the competent authorities.”



Invasive Super-Termite Spreads In Israel

The Environmental Protection Ministry announced Tuesday (29th) that it identified the Formosan subterranean termite in several localities near Petah Tikva where the invasive species was first spotted in Israel in 2020.

The super-termite, which originates in southern China and Taiwan, is highly destructive since a queen of a single colony has a life-span of 15 years and is capable of producing up to 2,000 eggs per day.  The enormous size of its colonies, coupled with the rapid rate at which it consumes wood, is guaranteed to leave much devastation in this species’ wake.

The termites have been observed in several communities near Petah Tikva and locals reported spotting thousands of insects spreading their wings and flying about in search of a mate.

The Environmental Protection Ministry was quick to respond to these reports and began monitoring the situation alongside The Nature and Parks Authority and the Nature Museum at Tel Aviv UNiversity, confirming that the highly destructive pest has managed to spread despite numerous control and extermination efforts.

The ministry urged the public to report any sightings of the super-termite since the only way to eradicate this fast-multiplying species is feeding them growth inhibitors that would eventually spread among the nests upon their return.

While harmless to humans, the Formosan termite is known to cause massive damage to property thanks to its ability to eat through plastic, rubber, concrete and soft metals.  It also damages water pipes, underground electric lines and telecom infrastructure.

The super-termites also have an adverse effect on several species of flora, including citrus, oak, eucalyptus and various conifer trees.

Their rapid feeding-rate weakens trees from the inside which in turn can cause them to collapse from strong winds.  It can also outright kill them if the termites reach and feed on the trees’ roots.

In China, one of its countries of origin, the species has damaged thousands of flood protection barriers, which in turn caused flooding in several parts of the country.  This pest causes tens of millions of dollars in damages each year the world over.