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Hamas' Khaled Meshaal Heads for New Exile

By DEBKAfile

Hamas' political leader Khaled Meshaal, forced to quit his old headquarters in Damascus after abandoning his longtime host Bashar Assad and finding sanctuary in Doha - is again being hounded from pillar to post. A deal struck between Egypt and Qatar could result in the Hamas leader settling in the Iranian capital. This would afford Tehran a foothold in the Gaza Strip, its second Mediterranean outpost after Lebanon on the Israeli border.

The Egyptian-Qatar deal, revealed here by DEBKAfile's Middle East sources, covers the future of the Muslim Brotherhood, the nemesis of Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisis, and its offspring, the Palestinian Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Their memorandum of understanding was concluded December 24, in Cairo by a delegation of Qatari intelligence chiefs and the new Egyptian director of intelligence Gen. Khaled Fawzi. They spent most of the day hammering out the following six points:

1. Qatar withdraws its support from all Brotherhood operations against Egypt and Saudi Arabia; 2. This point applies equally to any Hamas activity that may be interpreted as inimical to Egypt 3. Qatar's assistance to Hamas will be limited to "civilian" projects (such as repairing war damage in Gaza), which too will be subject to President El-Sisi's approval; 4. Given the close cooperation maintained at present between the Egyptian president and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on affairs relating to Gaza, Israel will implicitly have the right to disqualify certain Palestinian projects in the enclave; 5. Qatar is to shut down the anti-Egyptian propaganda channel run by its Al Jazeera television station; 6. The emirate is not required to sever all its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, just to keep them under control as its "strategic reserve."

DEBKAfile's sources add: Brotherhood leaders have exited Doha and made arrangements to establish residence and a new center of operations in London, U.K. Khaled Meshaal, after he was denied permission by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to set up shop in Istanbul, is on the point of a decision to relocate his offices in Tehran. Iran would thus gain a proxy foothold in the Gaza Strip, its second outpost on the Mediterranean after the first was provided by Hizbullah in Lebanon. If Meshaal decided to settle in Tehran, Iran would acquire a handy springboard for action against Egypt and southern Israel.

Iranian Soldiers Photographed on Lebanon-Israel Border


The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has published a report documenting photographs of Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers "killing time" at the Lebanon-Israel border. Preliminary information suggests the pictures were taken in October, but were released only recently, along with verbal threats against Israel. Several photographs published contain the caption: "We have arrived to the cursed Israel."

The Twitter account linked to the Revolutionary Guards uploaded a number of the pictures on Thursday, with the headline, "The Islamic Republic soldiers are on the border of occupied Palestine." The soldiers' faces were blurred, so as not to be identified. According to MEMRI's reports, the photos were also published a week and a half ago on the Iranian military's website. In this case, the soldiers' faces are visible.

The Iranian military's websites showcases photos of soldiers taken in the Bekaa Valley and Baalbek in south Lebanon. "We have come close to the motherland of corruption - the cursed Israel. With Allah's help, we will trample over their bodies" the website writes.

In October, the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar said that terrorists from Hezbollah, which controls south Lebanon, could be found operating in the area near the Litani River - in violation of a United Nations resolution.

More recently, on Thursday, the Iranian army began a massive military drill sprawling from the farthest eastern expanses of the Islamic regime all the way to its southern maritime borders opposite the principality of Oman, in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Aden.

A full 13,000 Iranian soldiers are taking part in the six-day drill, reportedly marking the first time the Iranian navy is conducting a drill so far offshore. Iranian media reported Saturday that Iran has begun running tests on a new weapon in their arsenal: domestically produced exploding "suicide" drones meant to strike targets on land, air and sea.

Iranian Navy Commander, Habib Allah Sayyari told a news conference that one of the main objective of the extensive military exercise is to convey a message of peace. He claims that Iran's neighbors need to know that improving the combat capabilities of the Iranian army are not directed toward anyone in particular, but are intended only for the protection of Iran's borders and interests.

PA: Security Council to Vote Monday on 'End to Occupation'

By Israel Hayom

Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat said Friday that a Palestinian-proposed Security Council resolution setting a 2017 deadline for an "end to the occupation" would be brought to a vote on Monday. Erekat's statement came after a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

According to Erekat, changes have been made to the wording of the resolution to make it more palatable to Security Council members, including the U.S., which has hinted that it would likely veto the resolution if it was approved.

Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported that Qatar would suspend the financial and diplomatic support it provides to Hamas. According to the report, this is due to a thaw in the relationship between Qatar and Egypt. In a reported deal brokered by Saudi Arabia, Qatar agreed to halt its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot, and cease Qatar-owned Al Jazeera's unfavorable coverage of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.


Argentinian President Adopts Jew to Counter Werewolf Curse

By Israel Hayom & Reuters

Last week, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez presided over the lighting of Chanukah candles with the Tawil family, whose son Yair was, according to urban legend, prevented from turning into a werewolf when the president adopted him as godson Fernandez adopted the Jewish 21-year-old from a Chabad family as grandson, as part of a superstition turned tradition about werewolves.

According to the legend, if a family has only sons and no daughters, the seventh son will become a werewolf, or "Lobizon," that would attack others and turn them into werewolves. A law passed in the 1920s allows the president to adopt the seventh son as a godson to prevent the family from suffering the cursed fate.

Up until 2009, the law only applied to Catholics. Yair Tawil was the first Jew to be adopted since the law was changed. Tawil's parents had asked for Yair to be adopted as early as 1993, but were denied. Tawil appealed to the president in a letter and cited the 2009 ruling as a reason for him to be reconsidered for adoption, thus avoiding the curse. Recipients of the presidential adoption are also eligible for a full educational scholarship.

The werewolf shows its true nature on the first Friday after the boy's 13th birthday, legend says. The boy turns into a demon at midnight whenever there is a full moon, doomed to hunt and kill others before returning to human form. Belief in the legend was so widespread in 19th century Argentina that families began abandoning - even murdering - their own baby boys.

That atrocity sparked the Presidential practice of adoption, which began in 1907, and was formally established in 1973 by Juan Domingo Peron, who extended the tradition to include baby girls.

In a series of tweets, Fernandez described the meeting as a "magical moment" with a "marvelous family." She described Yair as "a total sweety," and called his mother "Queen Esther." The President also tweeted that the Tawils "are a very special family. They have a sort of peace, happiness and a lot of love that is not common."

Stunning Pictures of Israel from Space Posted by NASA Astronaut


Stunning pictures of Israel taken from space were posted on Friday to the Facebook of the International Space Station. The photos, taken by commander of the current Expedition 41 to the ISS Barry Wilmore, were shot as the ISS passed over Israel from a height of 431 kilometers (268 miles) and appeared with a caption: "Israel -- completely clear -- on Christmas morning from the International Space Station. Astronaut Barry Wilmore woke up early on Christmas to reflect upon the beauty of the Earth and snap some images to share with the world."

The first image was taken from the south and shows the contrast between the desert and green Israel. The image shows the country without a cloud in the sky, which enable the nation's natural borders to be spotted easily: Inside the Green Line, everything is green, while outside it, the prominent color is brown.

The second picture, taken directly above the Dead Sea, shows how the world's saltiest body of water is shrinking. The southern part of the Dead Sea -- where the Dead Sea Works is located -- has already dried up. The third picture was taken above the Sea of Galilee and the lake is shown amid green fields and orchards.

Thousands of visitors to the page have seen the photos, and an argument sprang up between Israelis and Palestinians after the latter demanded that the entire area shown be called "Palestine." One visitor tried to broker a compromise, proposing that it be called neither Israel nor Palestine, but rather "Mother Earth." "Learn to love, not hate," he admonished the others.

Spiritual Leader of Israel's African Hebrews Dies

By VOA &

The American-born spiritual leader of Israel's African Hebrew movement, Ben Ami Ben Israel, has died at 75.A movement spokesperson said Ben Israel died suddenly Saturday. The cause of death is unclear. Ben Israel was born in Chicago. He had what he called a "vision" in 1966 to lead about 400 other black Jews to Israel. The group arrived in Liberia and migrated to Israel three years later.

Suspicious Israeli officials settled the group in the desert town of Dimona, where Ben Israel's followers struggled to gain recognition as Jews from senior Israeli rabbis and citizenship from the government. The African Hebrews were eventually given permanent residency, and Ben Israel was granted Israeli citizenship. The group now numbers about 2,700. The community, which some labeled a cult, was established in Chicago's underprivileged neighborhoods as part of the Black Hebrews movement.

The members of the community have a unique vegan lifestyle and fast every Saturday. The community sustains itself with vegan restaurants located in Tel Aviv and Dimona, where they now call home.

The Hebrew African Israelites were shocked by the death of Ben-Israel, who had been receiving treatment at the Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva for an illness. The community issued a day of mourning and canceled school on Sunday.

In a statement released by the community it was written: He devoted his life to the community, the state of Israel and the land of Israel. He created a unique model of social development that should be encouraged and emulated. Despite the disagreements between the community and the country at the beginning of our journey, Ben Ami was consistent in his commitment to the country. The Hebrew community will remain loyal the vision of our leader and will continue his vast work in Israel and around the world."

The Mayor of Dimona, Beni Biton, said: "In the past few days 61 housing units were approved for their community. He personally worked on the matter along with the former internal minister Gideon Sa'ar who helped them much. He was not able to see the big vegan festival that we conducted because he didn't feel well."

"We love Israel with all of our hearts, get drafted into the army and see ourselves as an inseparable part of the State of Israel," Ben-Israel said in the past.

Ben-Israel, a former Baptist, founded the community after a coworker enlightened him on the notion that he was a descendent of the biblical Israelites and in 1966 Ben-Israel claimed he had received a vision from the angel Gabriel.

Apartment Rental Prices in Israel See 60% Rise in Past Decade


Apartment rental prices in Israel have skyrocketed in the past several years, according to figures released by the Housing Ministry, as an increasing number of couples say they can't afford to pay the costs of housing. The report shows that rental prices have gone up by an average of approximately 58% from 2008 to September 2014 – considerably higher than the consumer price index. The situation is worse in Tel Aviv, where rental prices increased by 72% over the past six years.

According to the Housing Ministry's figures, the average rent for apartments in Tel Aviv was NIS 2,749 per month (about $701 based on NIS 3.92 to $1 US)). The following eight years saw a moderate increase in prices, with the average rental price at NIS 3,277 per month in 2008. Since then, the price has gone up to NIS 5,643 on average per month (about $1440).

The following data refers to the average rent for apartments of all sizes: In Tel Aviv, the rental price for a small apartment (1.5-2 rooms) is NIS 3,984 per month. Average rent for a bigger apartment (2.5-3 rooms) is NIS 4,954. Those renting a 4.5-5 room apartment pay no less than NIS 8,200 on average.

In Jerusalem, rental prices for apartment have risen more moderately, with a smaller leap of 48% in the past six years. In 2008, the average price of an apartment in the capital stood at NIS 2,688 - today it stands at approximately NIS 4,000 per month. The average rental price for a 1.5-2 room apartment in Jerusalem is NIS 2,884 per month. Rent for apartments with 3.5-4 rooms is NIS 4,510 – almost the same price as a 2-room apartment in Tel Aviv.

Amos and Aliza Saban are worried about the future of their 29-year-old daughter Karin, who lives in Be'er Sheva in a rented apartment with her husband and two children, aged three and two months. "Things were much easier in our days," they say. "Today a simple 3-room apartment costs about NIS 750,000-800,000. The salary can barely cover baby formula and diapers. The children are becoming a burden to their parents. Even if they want to save up for their retirement, they can't."

When Karin and her husband got married four years ago, they moved to live with one of their parents, as they couldn't afford to rent an apartment. Today they live in a 3-room apartment, for which they pay NIS 2,200 per month. However, Karin adds, "Now that our family is expanding, we have to move and a new apartment will cost NIS 3,000 per month. We'll have to work very hard to maintain the home." "The idea of purchasing an apartment seems like a dream. The government does not do enough to lower housing prices. It just rises and rises," Karin adds.

According to figures from Central Bureau of Statistics released in 2013, which rely on the 2012 household expenses survey data, there has been a decline in the proportion of ownership of apartments by young married couples ages 30-39 over the last 16 years.

Between 1997 and 2002 the percentage of 30-39 year olds who owned apartments decreased from 68.7% to 56.7%. As a result, there's been a rise in rental rates for that age group, from 25.2% to 37.2%. The CBS reported that this trend has been registered mostly among married couples. The drop in share of apartment ownership among young couples contributed to the general trend of lowered real estate ownership in the population. The CBS found that from 1997 to 2012 there was a drop from 70.2% to 67.9% in the rate of ownership of at least one apartment in the overall household.

Conservative Judaism Youth Group Relaxes Inter-Dating Rules


In a controversial yet subtle move, United Synagogue Youth (USY) passed a new resolution that drops the binding "expectation" that leaders will not date non-Jews, and replaces it with a "recogni[tion of] the importance of dating within the Jewish community."

USY is the youth movement of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The new amendment was adopted at USY's annual international convention in Atlanta. In practice, while until now members were prevented from serving in regional leadership positions if they dated non-Jews, the new amendment means that this criterion is no longer binding.

JTA cited the example of a USY member from Maryland who said she considered running for her region's board, until she learned that the now-changed USY rules precluded her from doing so because she has a non-Jewish boyfriend. Under the new resolution, she and others like her would be allowed to serve as USY leaders.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, was quoted by JTA as saying, "Encouraging Jews to marry other Jews is the most successful path toward creating committed Jewish homes. At the same time, we can't put our heads in the sand about the fact that we live in an incredibly free society, where even committed Jews will marry outside the faith. If they do, we must welcome them wholeheartedly and encourage them to embrace Judaism," he added.

Rabbi Elan Adler, a pulpit rabbi for 25 years in American Orthodox synagogues who made Aliyah 5 years ago, told Israel National News in response to Wernick's words: "As traditional Jews, we keep our heads well out of the sand, in our wide-ranging contacts with people of other beliefs. At the same time, to paraphrase a book title from 20 years ago, intermarriage begins with an inter-date. The only way to guarantee a Jewish future and prevent assimilation is to ensure zero tolerance for inter-dating," said the rabbi.

The seminal 2013 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jewry found that among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse.

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