News Digest — 7/29/20

With Lebanon In Virus Lockdown, Can Hezbollah Afford An Israel Flare-Up?

Lebanon’s citizens were informed on Monday (27th) of a series of new restrictions intended to stop the spread of COVID-19, the most dramatic of which was a lockdown.

Until August 10th, mosques, cinemas and clubs are closed, sports events are canceled, and markets are shuttered.  Private businesses, banks and the educational system are closed from Thursday (30th), also until August 10th.  This is all coming into force ahead of the weekend’s Eid al-Adha, Festival of Sacrifice.

Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s Hezbollah-affiliated minister of health, explained: “We have to go back and deal with the situation as though the pandemic was only beginning.”  That’s because COVID-19 has broken out afresh in Lebanon the last few days, with 132 new patients and eight deaths – high numbers by Lebanese standards – in the 24-hours preceding the lockdown.

All this exacerbates Lebanon’s profound ongoing economic woes.  Locals don’t even have the money to seek hospital care when they need it.

The Hezbollah terror group, in recent months, has tried to fill this vacuum.  The group was accused of bringing the coronavirus to Lebanon via its various dealings with Iran.  To deflect those accusations, it set up a network of clinics and hospitals for COVID-19 patients.  The clinics are mainly in Shiite areas, but they provide services to all sectors, free of charge.  It has also provided food packages to impoverished families.  These moves have quieted much of the criticism of Hezbollah’s role in the spread of the virus and the wider economic meltdown.  Branding the coronavirus an enemy of the Lebanese nation, Hezbollah portrays itself as central in fighting it.

This brings us to Monday’s (27th) border incident with Israel.  The question one has to ask is whether Hezbollah, which is currently receiving reduced funding from Iran against the backdrop of the pandemic, the lockdown and the festival, would allow itself military action against Israel?

Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has vowed that Hezbollah will respond to any harm to its fighters, in Syria or Lebanon.  If Monday’s (27th) attempted attack accomplished nothing, logic would dictate that Hezbollah still “owes” Israel a military response for killing one of its fighters in a strike on Damascus last week.

And yet, the sense is that such logic may be misplaced and that Hezbollah cannot afford a major military entanglement with Israel – certainly not now and not in Lebanon.  That is not to rule out some kind of further Hezbollah response.  Alternatively, Hezbollah could try to target Israel from the Syrian Golan Heights, or simply wait until the festival and the lockdown are over.   



Israel Donates Water Generator to Gaza Strip

The Gaza Strip suffers from a water shortage in general and a drinking-water shortage in particular.  According to the UN Trade and Development Commission, some 95% of Gaza’s groundwater supply is found to be unfit for consumption.

Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, including with the Watergen company, the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and Palestinian partners, delivered its first generator, which produces clean drinking water from the atmosphere, to the Municipality of Abasan Al-Kabira in December 2019.  It was inaugurated in February of this year.  The second generator was installed at the Rantisi Medical Center in Gaza City two months ago.

The third generator was delivered on Sunday (26th).

The newest unit donated through this collaborative philanthropic effort is the largest Watergen generator to date.  It’s able to produce 5,000 liters of water a day for the Nasser Medical Center in Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest hospital, which currently purchases its drinking water from vendors in tankers at an extremely high cost.

An atmospheric water generator (AGW) captures the humidity in the atmosphere and transforms it into potable water.  Due to the problems with electricity in Gaza, this latest Watergen unit features a solar-panel system, as did the ones donated previously, so each unit can operate during power outages.

Recent water tests produced by the first pilot show that the quality of the drinking water is the best seen in the Gaza Strip in years.

Watergen and the Arava Institute are in contact with international funding agencies and have proposed a plan for providing hundreds of AWGs to Gaza to produce hundreds of thousands of liters of high-quality potable water a day, to help relieve the scarcity of clean water.



Groundbreaking Blood Test Can Detect Cancer Years Before Symptoms Appear

A new blood test can detect various types of cancer years before previously possible with traditional detection methods, according to new research published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Early detection of cancer has the potential to significantly decrease death rates caused by the disease.  Scientists have tried for years to develop a cancer screening-test that would reliably detect malignancy-potential before tumor cells have the chance to spread, making treatment more effective.  But until today, most attempts were unsuccessful or had partial results at best.

Developed by a Sino-US start-up, the groundbreaking new blood test is referred to as PanSeer.  It was developed by an international team of scientists at the University of California who were successfully able to diagnose five different types of cancer long before symptoms appeared in the patients tested.

The five types of cancer that PanSeer can currently detect are stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, bowel cancer, lung cancer and liver cancer, all fairly common.

The new study included a 10-year health survey conducted between 2007-2017 that took blood samples from more than 120,000 healthy people, collecting samples from people before they had presented any signs of having cancer.

The detection technique is based on a biological process called DNA methylation analysis, which screens for DNA signatures specific to different cancers and identifies locations that have the greatest chance of signaling the presence of cancer.  A special algorithm then compiles the findings and presents an indication of a person’s likelihood of developing the disease.

“What we showed is: up to four years before these people walk into a hospital, there are already signatures in their blood that show they have cancer,” says Kun Zhang, a bioengineer at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-author of the study, “that’s never been done before.” 

The test managed to detect early signs of cancer in 95% of the 605 patients who didn’t show any symptoms when being tested but developed cancer up to four years later.

The researchers hope that PanSeer or a similar blood test will become a standard annual test, but noted that further and more comprehensive studies need to be done before that can happen.



Security Guard Disarms Ax-Wielding Man Inside Ukraine Synagogue

A man wielding an ax who was shouting and storming into a synagogue in southwestern Ukraine on Tuesday (28th) was fended off by a local security guard.

According to Jewish News of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, the incident occurred in the city of Mariupol during morning prayers and was captured on surveillance footage.

The local Jewish outlet said that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Cohen and other worshipers were inside the synagogue when the attempted attack occurred.

Police said the security guard managed to chase the suspected attacker away from the complex and take his weapon, following a tussle and an exchange of blows, leaving the security guard injured.  The suspect returned later and hurled a sack of feces at the building, along with sand and other materials, before walking off again, according to the Jewish news site.

Police said that they have opened an investigation into the incident and are searching for the suspect.

“Thank G-d, the security guard managed to disarm him,” Cohen said in a statement about the incident sent out by Christians for Israel.  “I was in the synagogue at the time this was happening, as were others.  I was able to exit through the back door.”

Cohen thanked Christians for Israel, saying he would probably not be alive if it were not for the security they are providing.

Cohen, an emissary of the Chabad movement has been providing aid from Mariupol to Jews living in the rebel-held territories held by separatists alongside the border with Russia.

“He is in shock but coming to terms with what happened,” Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyamin Jacobs, who facilitated the Christians for Israel sponsorship of the synagogue’s security needs, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after Jacobs spoke to Cohen several times Tuesday (28th) on the phone.  



Florida Man Being Charged with Vandalism Of 2 Synagogues In Florida

Victor Martinez, 21, was named by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office as the previously unidentified man who spray-painted swastikas and hate messages on Temple Sinai and Temple Emanu-El earlier this month.  He also has been implicated in a vandalism attack on Temple Emanu-El in April, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

All of the incidents were captured on security footage and by security cameras at a nearby ATM.

Warrants for Martinez’s arrest were issued Wednesday (22nd) according to the statement.

Martinez, who was placed at the scenes of the incidents using cellphone records, faces three counts of criminal mischief by defacing and damaging a synagogue, all classified as felony hate-crimes.  

The Temple Sinai campus was extensively vandalized in the July 15 attack, including many walls made of porous Jerusalem stone, making the removal of the messages difficult.  In April swastikas were spray-painted on the doors of Temple Emanu-El, which was again vandalized on July 15.