Middle East Roundup: April 17, 2017

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Rabbi brutally attacked in Ukraine last fall has died of his injuries

(JNS.org) Rabbi Menachem Mendel Deitsch, who was badly beaten in a vicious attack and robbery in Ukraine last October, died April 15 from his wounds, Chabad announced Sunday.

He will be remembered for his efforts in strengthening Jewish life in France, Israel and the former Soviet Union.

After the attack, Deitsch, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in France and Israel, had emergency surgery in Zhitomir, Ukraine then was airlifted to Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan, Israel where he never regained consciousness.

Two men and two women from the Carpathian Mountains region attacked Deitsch, 64, on the night of Oct. 6 or in the early hours of Oct. 7, stole his cash and cellphone, and left him bleeding and unconscious under a bridge near the train station, according to local reports in Ukrainian me-dia. Deitsch suffered multiple head injuries and brain trauma.

The four suspects, who returned to the city a week after the attack, were arrested by police. Deitsch is survived by his wife, Shterna Sara, and their 11 children, Chabad said.


Turkey’s Erdogan declares victory in controversial vote to expand his powers

(JNS.org) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared victory in a controversial referendum held Sunday designed to vastly expand his powers.

While official election results have not come in, the state-run Anadolu news agency declared Erdogan had won with 51.4 percent out of a total of 47.5 million votes cast.

“God willing, these results will be the beginning of a new era in our country,” Erdogan said at a news conference Sunday night, CNN reported.

However, international monitors have criticized the fairness of the vote, saying it was conducted on an “unlevel playing field,” while the deputy leader of Turkey’s opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) called for the results to be annulled.

The referendum put forward by Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) sought to replace the current parliamentary system with a more powerful presidential system.

Erdogan and supporters of his “Yes” campaign said the constitutional changes are necessary to effectively deal with the country’s modern security and political challenges. Opponents say it moves Turkey towards increased authoritarianism.

If the vote outcome holds up, a new presidential system would be implemented by November 2019, eliminating the post of prime minister and concentrating power under Erdogan, granting him direct authority to appoint ministers.

In 2016, Israel and Turkey took steps to restore full diplomatic ties by exchanging ambassadors following years of frayed relations over the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident. Yet Erdogan has a history of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Last November, when asked about his remark in 2014 that the IDF’s actions during Operation Protective Edge represented “barbarism that surpasses Hitler,” Erdogan told an Israeli television journalist, “I don’t approve of what Hitler did, and neither do I approve of what Israel has done.”


Christians in Jerusalem and Egypt mark Easter following Palm Sunday terror

(JNS.org) Thousands of Christian pilgrims attended the annual Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem Saturday as Egyptian churches marked a somber Easter Sun-day. This year’s Easter rituals followed two Islamic State terror attacks at Egyptian Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday April 9, killing a combined 45 people.

The Israel Police bolstered security prior to the Holy Fire ceremony, deploying hundreds of units in Jerusalem’s Old City and at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s courtyard.

During the Jerusalem ceremony, which takes place annually prior to Easter Sunday, Christians light candles with “Holy Fire” from what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus Christ. A sunbeam shines through one of the church’s ceiling windows and ignites a lamp positioned in the tomb, in what is deemed to be a miracle. Moments after the Orthodox patriarch reveals the “Holy Fire,” it spreads rapidly through the church as pilgrims light each other’s candles.

In Egypt, all celebratory aspects of Easter were canceled at the behest of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II. Ceremonies at Coptic churches had a heavy security presence, as security barriers with a 1,300-foot radius were erected around churches.


Palestinian police detain elite IDF soldiers during undercover operation

(JNS.org) Two undercover combat soldiers from an elite IDF unit were exposed and detained by Palestinian security forces in Nablus Saturday, in the midst of a clandestine operation.

Palestinian police officers reportedly stopped a car that the two undercover soldiers were driving after their identities had been uncovered. The soldiers were detained on a main street in the neighborhood of Rafidia, where large numbers of IDF units were dispatched to protect the apprehended soldiers after Palestinian teenagers began rioting and throwing rocks at the commandos.

The Israeli soldiers were taken to the Nablus police station for questioning and, with the assistance of Israel’s Civil Administration, were returned to the IDF near An-Najah University in Nablus along with their weapons, equipment and vehicle.

The soldiers involved in the incident were part of Duvdevan, the IDF’s special Arab-speaking counter-terrorism unit, known in Hebrew as “Mistaravim.”


US defense chief Mattis to make first official visit to Israel this week
(JNS.org) U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis visits Israel this week for his first official trip to the Jewish state since assuming the position.

Mattis—who is visiting Israel as part of a weeklong trip to several of America’s key Middle East allies, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt—arrives Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Mattis is expected to speak with the Israeli officials about issues such as Iran, Syria and the fight against the Islamic State terror group.

It is unclear if Mattis will also discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has recently been the purview of President Donald Trump’s international negotiations representative, Jason Greenblatt.

Lieberman and Mattis met last month in Washington, D.C., where Lieberman told his counterpart that the U.S. needs to play a more “active” role in the Middle East.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani registers to run for re-election

(JNS.org) Iranian President Hassan Rouhani registered Friday to run for a second four-year term in the Islamic Republic’s May 19 election.

“Once again, I am here for Iran, for Islam, for freedom and for more stability in this country,” Rouhani told reporters.

Though he won the presidency in a landslide in 2013 and forged Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, Rouhani faces a stiff challenge from other candidates, including hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, a judge and cleric who is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khame-nei.

Additionally, outspoken former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced he is running again for the office.

Many Iranians are dismayed with Rouhani, who had promised to end Iran’s isolation and create a freer society, as the country’s economy fails to grow despite the lifting of economic sanctions in the aftermath of the nuclear deal.

Abbas plans ‘unprecedented steps’ to end West Bank-Gaza split

(JNS.org) Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas said he will take “unprecedented steps” to end the split between the PA-run territories in the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

In a speech to Arab ambassadors in Bahrain, Abbas said he was shocked at Hamas’s decision in March to form an administrative committee to run affairs in Gaza.

“After 10 years in which we sent financial support to our people in Gaza, we were surprised by this unprecedented step,” Abbas said. “Thus, we will take unprecedented steps regarding the split.”

While Abbas did not offer additional details, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum dismissed the PA leader’s comments, saying the terror group would not accept “the language of threats and dictating orders.”

Hamas seized control of Gaza from the PA in 2007. Numerous failed attempts have been made over the years to unify the Palestinian movement and end the split between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah political party, which dominates the PA.

Gaza Strip braces for severe electricity crisis as Muslim donor funds dry up

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org) Gaza is bracing for a severe energy crisis after donor funds from Qatar and Turkey—used to purchase diesel fuel for the territory’s lone power plant—have run out.

The Hamas-controlled energy authority in Gaza said it no longer has the funds to buy more diesel fuel and pay the requisite taxes, which are levied by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah.

IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit, warned that fuel for the power station in Gaza would likely run out very soon. The Hamas-run health ministry said Gaza residents’ lives were in danger due to rolling power cuts in an attempt to conserve fuel.

In January 2017, Turkey pledged to send 15,000 tons of diesel fuel to Gaza to operate the power station. Qatar’s head of state (known as the emir), Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, met with Hamas’s then-political bureau deputy chief Ismail Haniyeh and promised to transfer $12 million to the Palestinian Energy Authority in Ramallah to purchase the large quantities of diesel fuel needed to run the Gaza power station.

Dates set for Indian prime minister’s historic visit to Israel
(JNS.org) The dates of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to Israel—the first trip of its kind by a holder of his office—have been set for July 5-6 as the two countries mark 25 years of diplomatic relations.

While the details of Modi’s itinerary are still being worked out, reports indicate that his visit will focus on building stronger economic, agricultural and hi-tech ties.
According to the Hindustan Times,

“Though Israel is among the top four military hardware suppliers to India, with more than $1 billion in annual sales to New Delhi, the Modi government is keen to ensure that this visit is not focused on defense ties alone, but encompasses longterm economic and technological cooperation, resulting in a free-trade agreement.”

The report added that Modi’s visit will “be an open acknowledgment of India’s close ties with Israel, and also pave the way for transfer of high-end agricultural technologies that will benefit Indian farmers.”

Notably, Modi will not visit the Palestinian territories in July. The Indian government has said it believes the prime minister’s standalone visit to Israel will further “underline the significance of India’s special ties with the Jewish nation.”

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