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Israelis Mark Yom Kippur

Israel came to a standstill on Wednesday to mark Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calender. Millions of Jewish men and women spent the day praying in Synagogues while many children took part in the traditional day of biking and otherwise playing in the empty streets. One group which was kept busy was the Magen David Adom ambulance service, which reported treating 1,728 people for injuries suffered in bike and scooter accidents, dehydration and weakness caused by fasting.

Israeli Air Force Team in Moscow for Consulations
A senior-level team from the Israeli Air Force was in Moscow on Thursday to present data to Russian officials regarding the downing on Tuesday of a Russian Air Force reconnaissance aircraft on Tuesday, killing 15 Russian serviceman. The Kremlin blamed Israel for the incident, saying Israeli attack aircraft used the Russian plane for cover as they launched a strike on Iranian-supplied missiles being transferred to Hezbollah in Syria’s Latakia province. The anti-aircraft missiles fired by Assad regime forces at the Israeli planes hit the Russian plane by mistake, according to the Kremlin assessment.

Israel immediately issued a statement expressing sorrow over the loss of the Il-20 surveillance aircraft and its crew, but put the blame squarely on Assad regime forces which "fired indiscriminately" in the general direction of the Israeli aircraft without taking into account the presence of the Russian plane.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued  a statement blaming the loss of the aircraft on "a chain of tragic chance events" but promised that the Kremlin would fully review all relevant data and take steps to ensure such an incident was not repeated, prompting analysts to speculate that the season of Israeli freedom of action in the skies over Syria might be about to end.

Iran Named Major State Sponsor of Terrorism
The US State Department issued its annual survey on global terrorism Wednesday, once again naming Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. "Designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its terrorist-related activity in 2017, including support for Lebanese Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various groups in Syria, Iraq, and throughout the Middle East," the report said. It added that Iran has a highly active offensive cyber program which has carried out attacks against computer networks belonging to a variety of governments and private entities around the world.

Also on Wednesday, U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told Bloomberg News that German manufacturer Volkswagen will soon terminate its operations in Iran in compliance with US sanctions, adding that the US is "pleased with this decision because Iran diverts its economic resources away from its people to spread violence and instability across the globe."

PA Gives Stipend to Family of Ari Fuld’s Killer
The Palestinian Authority announced this week that it will provide a monthly stipend of NIS 1,400 to the family of Khalil Yusef Ali Jabarin, the terrorist who murdered 45-year-old Israeli journalist Ari Fuld last Sunday. The announcement led to a renewed debate in Israel over enforcement of recently passed legislation which would deduct the amount of money the PA budgets for such stipends from the amount Israel transfers to the PA from collected taxes on Palestinian goods and services traversing Israeli territory.

Today’s video gives an analysis of Israel’s regional strategic situation

US Closes PLO Offices in Washington DC

Palestinian reaction was swift to the announcement on Monday by the Trump Administration in the US that it has ordered the PLO’s offices in Washington DC to be closed, with the stated purpose of pressuring the Palestinians to return to negotiations with Israel. "Adherence to Jerusalem and preserving it and the rights of the Palestinians, including the issues of Jerusalem and the refugees, is more important than the relationship with the US," declared PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh. “The decision to close the PLO office won't stop us from preserving our Islamic and Christian holy sites or change our commitment to international resolutions and the decisions of Arab and Islamic summits concerning the Palestinian cause."

"We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to US threats and bullying," added senior PA diplomat Saeb Erekat. "Accordingly, we continue to call upon the International Criminal Court to open its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes."

However, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Tuesday evening saying "The US made the correct decision regarding the PLO mission in Washington. Israel supports American actions that are designed to make it clear to the Palestinians that refusing to negotiate and attempts to attack Israel in international forums will not advance peace."

Other steps taken by the Trump Administration, including cutting US funding for the UNRWA, have also been bitterly criticized in recent days, with a report surfacing on the London-based website Al-Khaled Tuesday indicating that the Administration is pursuing a plan to pressure Arab countries to grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees drawing accusations of a “conspiracy” to eliminate the decades-old demand that the descendants of Arabs who fled Israel during and following the 1948 War of Independence be allowed to “return” to the country. 

Russia Says Reports of Chemical Weapons in Syria Untrue
The Kremlin was pushing back Tuesday against claims that chemical weapons had been used in attacks on rebel positions in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, saying the film evidence being presented to prove the allegations had been staged. Nevertheless, defense community analysts speculated that the Trump Administration would strike Assad regime forces in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons and Turkish President Erdogan warned that the situation could rapidly escalate regional tensions.

Erdogan told the Wall Street Journal newspaper on Tuesday that "All members of the international community must understand their responsibilities as the assault on Idlib looms. The consequences of inaction are immense. A (Assad) regime assault would also create serious humanitarian and security risks for Turkey, the rest of Europe and beyond."

Turkish troops have deployed on the border with Idlib province in an apparent attempt to contain any spillover violence and officials in Ankara have warned that they will not accept any more refugees from the war in Syria.

Joint List MKs Get Support for Anti-Israel Campaign
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit pledged his support Tuesday to Joint (Arab) List MKs Ahmad Tibi and Jamal Zahalka for their efforts to drum up international pressure against Israel over the recently passed “Jewish Nation-State Law” during a meeting they held in Cairo. Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer characterized the behavior of Tibi and Zahalka as “spitting in the face of the country that pays their salaries.”

Iranian Leader Rattles Nuclear Sabre
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Wednesday that the Islamic Republic has between 3,000 and 4,000 active centrifuges, adding that the nuclear infrastructure should be noted by the clerical regime’s enemies. "America and Israel have a program against Iran and they scrapped a deal they requested," Larijani said, referring to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. "After America withdrew, European leaders asked that Iran not give a quick reply to this action and they asked for time, which is passing now."

Today’s videos give a look at how Israelis are celebrating Rosh Hashanah in 2018

Israel Makes Preparations for High Holy Days

As Israeli Jews prepared to celebrate the festival of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) starting Sunday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the leadership of the IDF and Security services Thursday for a toast to mark the occasion, thanking them for their hard work and briefing them on the latest developments. Elsewhere, the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City was the site of “Selichot prayers” all this week, as thousands gathered to prepare for the High Holy Days.

Here is a video about Rosh Hashanah in Israel

Leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran Meet Over Syria
The presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran were meeting in Teheran Friday in an effort to coordinate strategies for dealing with the multiple, overlapping crises in Syria. The talks were reportedly focused on efforts to avert a bloodbath in Idlib Province, home to nearly 3 million civilians and the last remnants of rebel factions, including an estimated 10,000 members of Al Qaida and other Islamist terror militias. Assad regime forces have already begun shelling and bombing rebel positions inside Idlib, with support from Russian aircraft, as ground forces including Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias mass on the border for a possible invasion.

"We look to Russia, Turkey, Iran to come with hope to the civilians in Idlib," said Staffan de Mistura, the United Nation's Syria envoy. "There are indeed many more babies than there are terrorists in Idlib. There are a million children."

Iranian Leader Complains of ‘Economic and Media War’
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a speech in which he blasted the US and Israel for what he described as unwarranted aggression against his regime. "Today, [Iran's] Islamic system faces an all-out economic war that is carefully guided by a war room, but along with this war, there is a major media and propaganda warfare that is often neglected," Khamenei said on Wednesday.

IDF Completes Separation Fence Segment on Northern Border
A senior IDF Northern Command officer briefed reporters on the Lebanese border Wednesday, showcasing an 11 km length of concrete barriers that have recently been constructed and giving an open warning to the Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah that “Anyone who crosses into Israel will not return [alive] to Lebanon…in the next war Hezbollah’s Radwan unit will be eliminated.”
“This is a planned operation designed to maintain long-term stability on the frontier and is fully coordinated with UNIFIL forces,” the IDF said, referring to the refurbished border barrier. “The interest in maintaining relative stability is clear, and there is no reason that it should be affected by construction work.”

Trump Promises Progress in Peace Process

US President Donald Trump spoke with American Jewish leaders by conference call on Thursday, saying that he plans to withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority unless they agree to enter into negotiations with Israel. He added his hopes that this approach, which he said had never been tried before, would lead to a breakthrough in the decades old stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We’re going to be able to get it done,” Trump said. “We did something that I now understand why so many presidents before me didn’t do. They would campaign and they were always going to talk. They were always talking about Jerusalem and the embassy, and it was all very beautiful and everybody was happy. And then they never did it. I’d say, you’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying. And that’s going to have a little impact.”

“I said, “’By the way, did you ever do that before?’” he added. “I said to some of the past negotiators, ‘Did you ever do that before? Did you ever use the money angle?’ They said, ‘No, sir. We thought it would be disrespectful.’ I said, ‘I don’t think it’s disrespectful at all. I think it’s disrespectful when people don’t come to the table.’”

Meanwhile, in a Rosh Hashanah interview with the Jerusalem Post, US Ambassador David Friedman attempted to dispel rumors that the White House was looking to extract something from Israel in return for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. “There’s nothing we have in our back pocket that says, ‘Well, Israel, you’ve got to give up X, Y and Z because the embassy was moved,’” he declared. “The embassy was moved to Jerusalem because the American people have, through their elected officials for the last 25 years, directed the president to do exactly that, and Donald Trump was the first president to do so. That’s the beginning and the end of the Jerusalem decision.”

“It has sent exactly the right signal to our friends and to our foes: that the United States can be trusted at its word; that the United States does not act out of fear, but out of strength,” he added.

In response to a question about the PA rejecting the so-called “deal of the century” before it’s even been publicly revealed, Friedman added, “The idea of rejecting a plan that you haven’t seen strikes me as being grossly irresponsible. You want to read it and tell us what you don’t like about it, by all means. You want to read it and say, ‘It’s not acceptable.’ Sure, that’s your right. But to not know what’s in there, and to reject it out of hand, and to cause others within the leadership to refrain from having conversations because you don’t like something you haven’t read, just strikes me as being grossly irresponsible when you’re trying to lead a couple of million people to a better future.”

Elsewhere, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, hosted a Rosh Hashanah toast on Wednesday evening in Washington, saying among other things that “What is new is the behavior of many Arab states. They are no longer reflexively dancing to the Palestinians’ tune. Despite the best efforts of Palestinian leaders to whip up opposition to President Trump’s Jerusalem decision, the response in the Arab world was mostly silence. And that silence should give us real hope for the future – the hope that after 70 years of demonizing Israel, some Arab states may finally be ready to turn the page.”

In related news, the Jordanian government recently sent reinforcements to the civil defense guards at Al-Aqsa Mosque on top of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City and has also taken other steps which it says is meant to bolster the morale of Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem. The government also sponsored a visit by Christian officers in the Jordanian armed forces to Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem.

Paraguay To Move Embassy Back to Tel Aviv

The administration of newly elected President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo, announced on Wednesday evening that it is rescinding a decision by the previous administration to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promptly ordered Israel’s embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital, to be closed. “Israel views with extreme gravity the unusual decision by Paraguay that will cast a cloud over relations between the countries,” read a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat issued a statement saying "We commend Paraguay’s decision to act in accordance with its obligations under international law by closing its embassy in Jerusalem and relocating it to Tel Aviv. President Abdo’s courageous decision shows that the government of Asunción has chosen to go back to the traditional Latin American position of respect for international law and UN resolutions."

Labor Party Holds Rosh Hashanah Event Amidst Turmoil
The Labor Party, which controlled nearly every aspect of governance in Israel from the pre-State foundations during the British Mandate period until 1977 when it lost an election to the recently formed Likud Party for the first time, held a pre-Rosh Hashanah toast in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. Party chairman Avi Gabbay, who has seen his support among the faction’s rank and file slip in recent months, gave a speech in which he declared that “We will win and form the next government” but then admitted that internal problems within the party might make that difficult.

“We don’t have the privilege to fight among ourselves,” Gabbay said. “We cannot waste energy on infighting. Our battle is outside. We have to focus on winning. And to win, we need to unite in our home.”

One Zionist Union MK who was present admitted during an interview with the Jerusalem Post that “There is a worse internal atmosphere than ever. There is a feeling we are coming apart. There is no cooperation and there are bad feelings.”

Iranian Atomic Energy Threatens to Resume Enrichment
A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization warned this week that it "will not return to previous levels if our counterparts leave the [JCPOA nuclear deal], but will instead reach even more advanced levels. We are at a considerably more advanced status than when we signed the deal. The country is moving ahead in nuclear activities at a favorable pace.” Speaking to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, US President Donald Trump said of Iran "When I took office, it was just a question of how long until they took over the entire Middle East. Now they are just worrying about their own survival as a country."

In related news, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson blasted Iran on Wednesday for its increased crackdown on dissidents, saying "The most reputable rights defenders, who have stepped up to be the messenger for millions of Iranians' discontent, are now in jail…at a time when everyday life is increasingly difficult for millions of Iranians, rights advocates should be an essential part of solving collective problems, instead of a primary target of the government’s crackdown."

Haley Says Ball In Palestinian Court
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told reporters in New York on Wednesday that the success or failure of the Trump Administration’s much-anticipated “deal of the century” to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians rested squarely on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “We have ensured that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will come to the table,” Haley said. “Abbas for the good of the people needs to come to the table.”

Today's video shows the utter failure of the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel

US Ambassador Friedman ‘Peace No Closer Despite Aid Money’

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Tuesday evening that the Trump Administration has “slayed the sacred cow of the calcified thinking that has held back progress on the Palestinian front…since 1994, the United States has thrown more than $10 billion in humanitarian aid to Palestinians. Without minimizing the importance of medical treatment and quality education for children – and we don’t, not even for a minute – we found that these expenditures were bringing the region no closer to peace or stability, not even by a millimeter."

“To spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund stipends to terrorists and their families, to expend funds to perpetuate rather than mitigate refugee status, and to finance hate-filled textbooks – I ask you, how does that provide value to the United States or the region?” Friedman continued, adding that the US is “not in the business of, as they say, throwing good money after bad.” He added that the actions taken by the Trump Administration to confront Iran and moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem had also contributed to making Israel and the US more secure.

In related news, a plan has emerged in diplomatic circles to allow a ‘confederation” between the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, leading to outraged denunciations by Palestinian leaders and anti-American demonstrations on the streets of PA controlled cities in the West Bank. PA President Mahmoud Abbas issued a somewhat confused response to the reports, leading to intense and often angry public exchanges between him and leaders of other Palestinian factions as well as the Jordanian government. 

Netanyahu; ‘Israel Will Confront Iran Near and Far’

Further drawing back the curtain on the shadow conflict between Israel and Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a Rosh Hashanah toast with workers at the Prime Minister’s Office Tuesday evening that “We defend our borders and we also deal with threats when they are farther away and have not yet reached us, within the framework of 'foreseeing 'what is coming,' – preempting evil. We do that.” Analysts surmised he was making a reference to recent reports that Iran is deploying ballistic missiles to positions occupied by its Shi’ite militia allies in Iraq, placing them in range of Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Referring to these and other Arab governments in the region, Netanyahu added that “They see our strength, our commitment to defend our state, develop it, turn it into an economic, technological military and intelligence power – and that brings friends.”

Also on Tuesday, the IDF released information confirming what has long been assumed by observers of the region, that it has attacked Iranian-linked military assets in Syria over 200 times in the last 18 months, launching over 800 missiles and mortar shells. The IDF statement added an assessment that the strikes had led Iran to evacuate some positions it had been planning to use to menace Israel and interfered with Iranian efforts to smuggle weapons to its proxies, including the Lebanese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah. However, Iran continues to build up its capabilities in Syria and the situation calls for continued vigilance, according to the statement.

Assad Regime Again Accuses Israel of Air Strikes
A state news agency tied to Syria’s Assad regime on Tuesday accused Israel of carrying out air strikes on regime “military positions in the provinces of Tartous and Hama" while an opposition group reported that explosions had been observed at an Iranian-run military facility in the vicinity of Hama City. The IDF declined to comment on the reports, in line with standard procedure. Meanwhile, Russian and Assad regime aircraft were observed making heavy strikes Tuesday on rebel positions in Idlib Province, near the Turkish border. Reports indicate that the Turkish military has deployed tanks and troops to its border with Idlib in an effort to minimize the spillover effects from the violence there.

Here is a video offering some analysis of the situation in Syria

US Looking to Increase Military Presence in Greece
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said Tuesday that he is looking for ways to increase US military presence in Greece. “If you look at geography, and you look at current operations in Libya, and you look at current operations in Syria, you look at potential other operations in the eastern Mediterranean, the geography of Greece and the opportunities here are pretty significant,” he said.

Hamas Leader Admits to Staging ‘March of Return’ for Internal Reasons
Yahya Sinwar, a senior official with the Islamist terror militia Hamas, said during a press conference Tuesday that the “March of Return” demonstrations on the border with Israel over recent months were a ploy to divert attention from internal Palestinian political maneuvering. “After the reconciliation efforts (between Hamas and Fatah) reached an impasse, a number of factions planned to cause an internal explosion in the Gaza Strip, but the Marches of Return thwarted the plan,” he said. “Palestinian officials collaborated with Israeli intelligence in order to sabotage the reconciliation efforts.”

Today's video shows yet another way Israel is blessing the world

Israel and Iran in Tense Standoff as Idlib Offensive Nears

The Kremlin announced on Monday that officials from Russia, Iran and Turkey will hold a meeting in Teheran Friday to discuss the developing situation in Syria. The announcement came as Assad regime troops and their allies are poised to strike at the last remaining rebel enclave in the northwest province of Idlib and Israeli officials have warned of stepped up actions against Iranian encroachment of the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Damascus for an unannounced visit on Monday, meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad and other senior officials to discuss the offensive against Idlib and related issues. "Iran will remain a supporter of the Syrian government in its efforts to remove terrorists from its land, and it will continue its advisory role and help the Syrian government in the upcoming Idlib campaign," Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said.

The plans to strike in Idlib appear to be proceeding despite a personal plea to stand down from US President Donald Trump, who tweeted on Monday that "The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don't let that happen!"

In related news, US officials have recently urged Israel to “please leave Iraq to us” amidst reports that Iran has deployed ballistic missiles to its Western neighbor, bringing them within range of striking the Jewish State, as well as Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

"We are certainly monitoring everything that is happening in Syria and, regarding Iranian threats, we are not limiting ourselves just to Syrian territory. This also needs to be clear," Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a news conference in Jerusalem on September 3, in an apparent reference to Iraq. "I am saying that we will contend with any Iranian threat, and it doesn't matter from where it comes. Israel's freedom is total. We retain this freedom of action."

Finally, the Rial, Iran’s currency, dipped to new record lows against the US dollar this week, hitting 128,500 to $1 by Monday evening, according to websites which track the issue.

Here is a video offering some analysis of developments surrounding Iran

Gaza-Border Farmers File ICC Complaint Against Hamas

Farmers from Israel’s southern communities who have seen their crops burned by incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons sent into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip filed a war crimes complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague Monday. The complaint was made specifically against Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal, Saleh al-Arouri and Zaher Jabarin, who the farmers say bear responsibility for the situation as the de facto governing authority in the Strip.

The legal NGO Shurat Hadin, which prepared and filed the complaint on behalf of the farmers, said in a statement that “These farmers and their families have endured the daily barrage of incendiary devices launched from Gaza, as well as the trauma of the incessant attempts to invade Israeli communities and murder civilian men, women and children in their homes.” The statement added that the actions fo Hamas leaders were a “blatant violation of the Rome Statute (Articles 8 (2) (c) (viii) and 28), which prohibits the murder of non-combatants, the destruction of civilian property for unlawful purposes, and the use of civilians as human shields…Hamas transported civilians to the border for the purpose of burning 10,000 tires and throwing gasoline bombs, as well as openly issued propaganda videos advising civilians that the purpose of burning tires was to mask the movements of its armed militants, who had been directed to murder Israeli civilians.” Mashal, Arouri and Jabarin “face command liability for the criminal actions of Hamas because they, along with other persons not within the jurisdiction of the court, exercise effective control and responsibility over them.”

In related news, an attempted stabbing attack against IDF soldiers at the Givat Ha’avot checkpoint in the Jewish town of Kiryat Arba, just north of Hebron, was broken up Monday afternoon, leaving the terrorist suspect dead.

Finally, Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's chief envoy to the Middle East peace process, issued a statement on Monday declaring that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it "is not, as many have claimed, the core conflict of the region…solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not solve other conflicts in the region, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, terrorists in the Sinai Desert in Egypt, a tragic, continuing civil war in Syria, war in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, instability in Libya, and an Iranian regime that oppresses its own people and foments terrorism around the world."

However, he added, "That does not make resolving this conflict any less important."

The statement, which was printed in several newspapers English, Hebrew and Arabic, also covered other issues he is dealing with regarding US policy in the Middle East.

Duterte Visits Officials, Yad Vashem
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte continued his tour of Israel on Tuesday, meeting Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem and thanking Israel for assistance in fighting the Islamic State (IS) terror militia. He also told reporters that he has instructed his military officers that Israeli equipment are what they should buy to equip Filipino forces with. Earlier in the day Duterte toured the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem along with his daughter Sara, whose grandfather fled Nazi Germany and found refuge in the Philippines. In the Yad Vashem guestbook, Duterte wrote: “Never again. May the world learn the lesson of this horrific and benighted period of human history. May the hearts of peoples around the world remain ever open. And may the minds of all men and women learn to work together toward providing a safe haven for all who are being persecuted.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Duterte met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the two leaders signed several bilateral agreements on trade, defense and tourism.

Ryanair Offering Reduced Rates on Israeli Routes
In another defeat for the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel, low-cost airliner Ryanair recently began offering new routes between Israel and European cities. Already discounted rates between Israel and destinations in North and South America have also recently been lowered.

Population Statistics Released Ahead of Rosh Hashanah
Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority released statistics ahead of Rosh Hashanah this week as the year 5778 according to the Jewish calendar comes to a close. Included in the statistics are the number of babies born in Israel (168,441) and the number of deaths (41,165) as well as the number of new immigrants (24,496) which is an increase from last year.

Today’s video shows how students at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology are preparing for Rosh Hashana

Duterte Arrives in Israel for Contentious Visit

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte landed in Israel on Sunday, making history as the first head of state of the Philippines to visit. The official purpose of his trip is to check on the welfare of the estimated 28,000 Filipino guest workers in Israel (he will also visit Jordan on Wednesday, where there are close to 50,000) but his visit has been highly controversial, with some Israeli officials openly saying he is not welcome due to his highly controversial actions and statements while in office.

Meanwhile, reports surfaced in various media outlets in both Israel and the Philippines that while he is here, Duterte will also discuss buying Israeli-built equipment for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) while he also told reporters in Manilla before coming that he was interested in expanding cooperation in the areas of defence and security, law enforcement, economic development, trade and investment. Approximately 400 people, including government officials and business, civic, religious and cultural leaders from the Philippines are accompanying Duterte on the four day visit.

Here is the video of Duterte's meeting with PM Netanyahu

Conflicting Reports About Large Explosions in Syria
Official media linked to Syria’s Assad regime were issuing flat denials Sunday evening of widespread reports that Israeli aircraft carried out a strike on Iranian weapons depots at a large military air field near Damascus earlier in the day, claiming instead that an electrical malfunction at the site was responsible for setting off the explosions. The denial was, however, refuted by opposition groups as well as regional militias allied with the regime, while the Israeli government flatly declined to make any comment on the situation.

The incident occurred as US special representative to Syria James Jeffrey and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at State Department Joel Rayburn arrived in Israel to discuss developments in the region with Israeli officials. The American officials are also scheduled to visit Jordan and Turkey later this week.

Israeli Leaders and Their Children Head Back to School
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several other Israeli officials visited schools around the country on the first day of classes Sunday. Many also joined millions of ordinary citizens by posting pictures to social media of themselves taking their own children to school accompanied by emotional testimonies about what it meant to them to have children attending public school in the Jewish State.

“The first day of school is an emotional day for all of us, including pupils, teachers, principals and parents,” Netanyahu said on a visit to the Breuer School in Yad Binyamin. “We all take part in the experience together.”  To teachers he added. “Israel depends on the strength of its economy, military, diplomacy and its spirit. That spirit is based on the education of our children in our national and historic values.”

IDF Announces Drug Bust Following Internal Investigation
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced on Sunday that a large internal investigation had led to the arrest of 35 soldiers and several civilians on charges of drug abuse and trafficking. “This activity is only part of a series of steps taken by the IDF to enforce the prohibition against the use of drugs among its soldiers and to exercise the full force of the law against any soldier involved in drug trafficking,” read a statement released by the IDF.

BDS Movement Suffers More Defeats
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered two large defeats in recent days as Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem joined the global TriNetX network of medical research institutions and the the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO), a Japanese governmental agency, launched an Israeli business accelerator program to aid start-up companies in both countries. Israeli officials hailed both moves as a way for Israel to contribute to the well-being and success of the world while also gaining important benefits for the government and citizens of the Jewish State.

Today's video shows some of the cultural connections between Israel and Italy

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