Middle East Roundup: March 28, 2017

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30 pastors witness lifesaving Israeli volunteer EMS methods in Jerusalem

(JNS.org) A special delegation from the U.S. organized by Christians United for Israel (CUFI) traveled to Jerusalem last week and visited the headquarters of United Hatzalah, an Israeli volunteer-based emergency medical services (EMS) organization.

According to a statement released by Hatzalah’s international spokesperson, the CUFI delegation—consisting of some 30 pastors from multiple Christian denominations—learned about the organization’s “lifesaving, all-volunteer, emergency medical services (EMS) model,” and saw “firsthand how the Hatzalah model is uniting the peoples of Israel in the joint cause of saving lives.”

During their time at Hatzalah’s Jerusalem headquarters, the Christian delegation also toured the organization’s command center, learned about the advanced technology used at the facility and met with a diverse group of volunteers representing Israel’s Jewish, Muslim and secular communities, among others.

“We have a number of pastors here from different states and different denominations,” CUFI Western Regional Coordinator Randy Neal. “A lot of them are not familiar with Israel and most of them have never been to Israel before. I have had the occasion and privilege to learn about United Hatzalah and I believe that the organization encapsulates the heart of Israel.”



2,000-year-old Jewish community unearthed near Beit Shemesh

(JNS.org) During a weeklong excavation project near Beit Shemesh, 240 Israeli students from Jerusalem’s Boyer High School uncovered the remains of an ancient Jewish community dating back to Israel’s Second Temple period.

The archaeological dig was launched prior to the construction of a new residential neighborhood in the area and, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) district archaeologist for Judah, Dr. Amit Shadman, “the excavations will be followed by the site’s preservation and development as an archaeological site in the heart of the new neighborhood.”

Discoveries at the site included “eight ritual baths, cisterns and hiding refuges, along with rock-hewn industrial installations,” the IAA said.

The IAA directors leading the excavation added, “The settlement’s extraordinary significance lies in its imposing array of private ritual baths, which were incorporated in the residential buildings. Each household had its own ritual bath and a cistern….Underneath the dwellings and rock-hewn installations, another surprising discovery was unearthed, dating to the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (2nd century CE)—a winding labyrinth of hiding refuges connected to sophisticated and elaborate complexes.”

The Israeli students’ excavation work served as a means of supplementing the expenses of an upcoming student delegation to Poland. Funding from Israel’s Ministry of Construction and Housing supported the initiative, which was directed by the IAA and also involved pre-army course cadets.



Hamas develops new rocket similar to Hezbollah missiles

(JNS.org) The Palestinian terror organization Hamas has developed a new high-powered rocket similar to those utilized by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, Israel’s Army Radio reported.

The report described the new Hamas rocket as being “completely different than any weaponry we know from the direction of the [Gaza] Strip—as concerns the weight of the explosive carried in the head of the rocket.”

In response to the IDF-affiliated radio network’s report, Ashkelon Coast Regional Council head Yair Farjoun, whose home city shares a border with Gaza, stated, “We are prepared for every scenario and if we need to evacuate, we will evacuate. Civilians do not need to be on the front lines.”

Since the 50-day war in Gaza in 2014, during which Hamas indiscriminately fired thousands of rockets on Israel’s civilian population, the Palestinian terror group has significantly expanded its efforts to develop its rocket capabilities.

The Army Radio report comes amid heightened tensions along the Israel-Gaza border following the assassination of high-ranking Hamas terrorist Mazen Faqha last Friday. Hamas has accused Israel of carrying out the assassination, but the Jewish state has neither confirmed nor denied involvement.


New high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem rail nears completion

(JNS.org) A new high-speed rail line connecting Israel’s holy city to its leading metropolis—Jerusalem to Tel Aviv—is set to revolutionize transportation in the Jewish state when it becomes operational at the beginning of 2018.

The ambitious 10-year effort to construct a high-speed rail link between the two cities is the largest project undertaken by Israel Railways in the past decade, and is also one of the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in Israel’s history.

Shahar Wiesman, head of communications for Israel Railways, said that “everything in this project was never done in Israel before, so each part was done in collaboration with an experienced foreign company,” Israel21C reported March 22.

Upon completion, the $1.9 billion project will enable commuters to travel between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in less than 30 minutes, significantly reducing the current hour-long commute when driving the 60-kilometer (37-mile) route.

The train will operate from a new transportation center in Jerusalem and will feature scenic routes through the hills surrounding the capital city. The new train line will also include stops at Ben Gurion International Airport and Tel Aviv’s existing four railway stations.


New sheriff in town Haley outlines approach to changing UNs culture on Israel

(JNS.org) U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, describing herself as the “new sheriff in town,” said at the AIPAC Policy Conference that her approach to fighting anti-Israel elements at the world body is to “kick them every single time” they display their bias.

Haley has been widely praised in pro-Israel circles for her efforts to change the U.N.’s Israel discourse during the Trump administration’s nascent days. Most recently, the U.S. demanded that the U.N. withdraw a report accusing Israel of apartheid. Indeed, the report—authored by Richard Falk, a discredited former U.N. special rapporteur who has an extensive record of anti-Israel rhetoric—was removed by the U.N.

“For anyone who said you can’t get anything done at the U.N., they need to know there’s a new sheriff in town,” Haley said.

The South Carolina governor earned constant standing ovations throughout her speech. She was visibly touched by the warm reception, putting her hand on heart towards the end of her time on stage.

Recalling last December’s U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334—which described eastern Jerusalem and its Jewish holy sites as “occupied Palestinian territory,” and was passed following the Obama administration’s refusal to veto the measure—Haley vowed such an incident “will never happen again.”



Exiled Hamas leader threatens Israel after killing of top commander

(JNS.org) Hamas’s exiled leader, Khaled Maashal, said Israel changed “the rules of the game” after the killing of a top terrorist commander in Gaza last week. Israel has not confirmed nor denied that it was behind the death of the commander, Mazen Faqha.

“Israel decided to change the rules of the game, and we accept the challenge,” Mashaal said in a speech broadcast during a memorial service for Faqha, killed last Friday in an incident that Hamas has blamed on Israel.

“The Zionist occupier took from us a great hero, and for this we will not sit quietly,” he said.

Israel is not the only possible culprit for the assassination, as Salafi jihadist groups in Gaza have also targeted Hamas leaders.


Cathay Pacific airlines Hong Kong-Israel route takes flight

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org) The Cathay Pacific airline’s first flight from Hong Kong to Israel landed at Ben Gurion International Airport last Sunday.

The landing followed the October 2016 announcement by the Hong Kong-based airline that it would begin operating four weekly direct flights between the Jewish state and Hong Kong International Airport in March 2017.

Paul Loo, director of corporate development at Cathay Pacific, arrived in Israel to inaugurate the route. Loo announced Sunday that growing demand has prompted the carrier to add a fifth weekly flight, starting Sept. 1.

Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin attended the inauguration event.

“This is a day of celebration for the Israeli aviation industry: The skies are opening eastward, lowering flight prices for Israelis and boosting incoming tourism,” said Katz, noting that the new Hong Kong-Israel route is expected to lower flight prices by 10 percent to 15 percent.


Shin Bet arrests Israeli citizen for transferring funds to Islamic State

(JNS.org) Israel’s Shin Bet security agency Monday disclosed that an Israeli citizen was recently arrested on suspicion of transferring funds to the Islamic State terror group.

The Shin Bet stated that Tzaber Knaneh, 25, a resident of the predominantly Arab city of Nazareth, was arrested in early March in a joint operation between the Shin Bet and Israel Police.

According to a Shin Bet investigation, Knaneh had allegedly been in contact with Islamic State operatives and supported the terror group’s ideology. The suspect had been in contact with his brother “prior to the latter’s death” and with Arab-Israeli citizen Muhammad Keilani, who currently serves among Islamic State’s ranks “in Syria or Iraq,” the Shin Bet said.

Keilana allegedly informed Knaheh of his brother’s death in 2016 and reportedly assisted with the transfer of funds from Israel to Iraq, aided by a moneychanger in the Palestinian city of Jenin.

For his alleged involvement in a money transfer to a terrorist operative, Knaneh is liable for aiding and abetting the perpetration of terror attacks, according to Israeli law.



UN chief reaffirms Jewish ties to Temple Mount, vows to curb bias on Israel

(JNS.org) United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reaffirmed his recognition of Judaism’s historic ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount last week, during a meeting with World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald Lauder in New York.

The meeting took place just hours after the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) debated its controversial Agenda Item 7, which makes alleged Israeli “human rights abuses” a permanent discussion item.

The WJC released a statement affirming the secretary-general reiterated comments similar to those he had previously made on Israeli radio, in which he said, “It is completely clear the Temple that the Romans destroyed in Jerusalem was a Jewish temple.”

During the meeting, Lauder expressed frustration regarding the UNHRC’s “obscene” bias against Israel. “The U.N. was built on the broken bones of the Jewish people after World War II…It is an institution dedicated to making sure that what happened in the Holocaust never happens again,” he said.

The WJC also noted that Guterres is committed to curtailing biased anti-Israel pronouncements at the UNHRC, but stopped short of making a vow to prevent anti-Israel resolutions from passing in the council.




Israelis warned of increased terror threat before Passover holiday travel

(JNS.org) Ahead of the Passover holiday, Israel has issued travel advisories cautioning Israelis to avoid vacationing in the Egyptian Sinai, Turkey and Jordan.

The Egyptian Sinai received the highest-level travel warning, level one, out of four, described as “a very high concrete threat.” Turkey received a level-two warning, “a high concrete threat,” and Jordan a level three “basic-level concrete threat.”

Eitan Ben David, head of the Prime Minister’s Office Counter-Terrorism Bureau, said at a media briefing Monday the heightened travel warnings were mainly related to increased threats presented by Islamic State-affiliated groups operating in these areas.

“The threat has grown, including to Israelis in the coming period, and is the gravest level of threat,” he said, adding, “Attacks on the Egyptian military, on Coptic Christians…ISIS (Islamic State) rockets fired at Eilat and videos from ISIS against Israelis show the high motivation and power of terror groups there.”

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