News Digest — 8/23/2021

Report: Explosive Balloons Launched From Gaza

Incendiary balloons were reportedly launched from Gaza toward southern Israel on Sunday night (22nd), Palestinian media sources reported.

It is thought that a number of fires in southern Israel on Monday morning (23rd) were caused by the balloons.  IDF soldiers in the area reportedly heard explosions in the night due to the incendiary devices as well, according to Walla News.

The reported launches come following a recent escalation between Israel and the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave, which saw an Israeli policeman wounded when he was shot by a Palestinian Saturday (21st) at the Gaza border.

It also comes following Egypt’s move to close the Rafah border crossing into the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing escalation.



Israeli Soldier Critically Injured During Mass Riots Along Gaza Border

A Border Police Soldier, identified as St.-Sgt. Barel Shmueli, 21, was critically injured during mass riots along the Gaza border fence on Saturday evening (21st), the IDF reported.  He was evacuated by helicopter to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.

The incident happened as hundreds of Palestinians approached the fence and confronted Israeli troops that were deployed along the border, leading to major clashes and dozens of injuries.

Over 40 rioters were injured, including two in critical condition, according to Palestinian reports.

“During the riots, hundreds of protesters approached the fence in the northern part of the Strip.  They attempted to climb it and confronted IDF soldiers.  The troops were well prepared and utilized riot dispersal means, as well as Ruger fire and sniper fire when necessary,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.  

Videos circulating online showed rioters burning tires and rolling them along the border.  One video shows several rioters trying to grab a weapon from a soldier through a slit in the fence, and another rioter carrying a pistol while running toward an opening and firing several bullets through it.

The riots, which lasted for about 4 hours, were part of a mass rally organized by Hamas to mark 52 years since the burning of the Al Aqsa Mosque and attended by thousands of Palestinians marching near the border from early afternoon.

The protest that quickly developed into violent clashes with the IDF, was carried out despite Israel’s recent approval of a deal that would allow the transfer of Qatari aid to the Gaza Strip via the United Nations.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz addressed the events along the border in an interview with Channel 13 and said that “these are very serious incidents and we will respond to them.”

In response to the Hamas protests and the critically injured IDF Border Police soldier, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) attacked several sites in central and northern Gaza used for storing and manufacturing weapons late Saturday night (21st).



Iran Has Doubled Forces On Israel Border Since 2018, Report Claims

The Iranian presence on the Syrian-Israel border is a well-known fact, but a new report from a Syrian research institute reveals just how deeply Iran has entrenched itself on Israel’s northern border.

The report was compiled by the Istanbul-based research institute Jusoor for Studies, which maintains close contact with the forces that oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

According to the report, in the two years since Russia, the US, Jordan and Israel signed a 2018 agreement promising to lessen Iran’s presence on the Syrian Golan Heights, the Iranian military presence in southern Syria has more than doubled, and it is deployed in preparation for a future confrontation with Israel.

The report claims that from 2018-2021, the number of military bases and outposts of pro-Iranian militias and Hezbollah in southern Syria has increased from 40 to 88.  It also reveals that bases of the Syrian Army, particularly the 90th Brigade that deployed from southern Syria to Damascus, serves as the logistic-backer for the pro-Iranian militias in the country.

In addition, the report claims that the militia personnel includes fighters from Afghanistan. Pakistan, Iraq, and Lebanon, and that its command-echelon consists mostly of members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps serving in Syria disguised as militia members or Syrian army officers.

The report presents two main lines of bases belonging to the militias/Hezbollah, and bases used by both groups.  One line is located very close to the Israeli border and the center of it is located near the Druze village of Khader in the northern Golan heights.  The second line runs from 18.5 miles eastward, and its purpose is to supply equipment for launching rockets and artillery fire for frontline fighters.

According to the report, the forces loyal to Iran in Syria also help the Assad forces oppress the local population, which in July led an uprising near the city of Daraa.



UNICEF: More Than 4 Million Lebanese Face Water Shortages

Lebanon is in danger of facing a severe water shortage or being cut off from a safe water supply in the coming days, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) warned on Saturday (21st).

In a statement shared on the UNICEF Lebanon Twitter account, the organization reported that in the month of July it had predicted that unless a change took place, 71% of the Lebanese population could run out of water over the summer months.  The situation since then has not improved and a huge strain has been placed on sanitation, power and healthcare services as a result.

“If four million people are forced to resort to unsafe and costly sources of water, public health and hygiene will be compromised, and Lebanon could see an increase in waterborne diseases, in addition to the surge in COVID 19 cases,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

Fore stressed the importance of the formation of a new Lebanese government, one with clear commitments to reforming the systems, and which will work to end the current crisis by taking “determined and systematic  action to protect children’s lives and ensure access to water and all basic services.”

With a population of 6 million, Lebanon is at a low point in a two-year financial meltdown, with a lack of fuel oil and gasoline causing extensive blackouts and making long lines at the few gas stations still operating.

UNICEF has said that should the public water supply system collapse, water costs could jump by 200% a month as water would be secured from private water suppliers.

The UN agency said it needed $40 million a year to secure the minimum levels of fuel, chlorine, spare parts and maintenance required to keep critical systems operational.

“Our teams in Lebanon are working tirelessly, in incredibly difficult circumstances, to provide life-saving services and continue to support the response to COVID 19 including with vaccine deployment and further expanding of programs,” Fore’s statement concluded.



Bar Kochba Coin To Join Israeli Astronaut In Space

Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe will take an ancient coin dating to the Bar Kochba revolt with him to outer space, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Thursday (19th).

“As part of the Rakia Mission to the International Space Station,” Stibbe said, “I will be taking with me a bag filled with items that have a special meaning to me.  It was clear to me that one of these items would be a symbol of Jewish history.”

The Bar Kochba revolt was an uprising of Jews in Judea against the Roman Empire from 132 to 136 AD, led by Simon Bar Kochba.  “Year two of the liberty of Israel” is imprinted into the coin, in defiance of Roman sovereignty.

With its depiction of a palm tree and vine leaves, Stibbe said the 1,900-year-old coin represents his connection to the Land of Israel, his love of country, and Israelis’ desire for independence, following a visit to the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Laboratory in Jerusalem.

“The palm tree particularly touched me,” as it is the symbol of the Agricultural Research Organization at Volcani Center, where my father spent his life conducting research on the country’s soil.”

Eli Eskosido, director of the IAA, said the rebels “could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that after many centuries, this coin would make its way to outer space with a Jewish astronaut who lives in an independent Jewish state.”

Stibbe is slated to take off for the International Space Station in late 2021 for a mission of just over a week.  He is scheduled to spend 200 hours in space where he will perform a number of experiments using Israeli technology and scientific developments.