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Report: IAF Strikes Hizbullah Targets Near Damascus

By Israel Hayom

Arab media alleged Wednesday that the Israeli Air Force struck Hizbullah targets in Al-Qutayfah, northeast of Damascus, Syria. The report has not been corroborated by any official Israeli source. The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency quoted a Syrian military official as confirming the strike, but he offered no other details.

According to reports, several Israeli fighter jets breached Lebanese and Syrian airspace in the early hours of Wednesday morning, en route to the Qalamun Mountains. According to the Lebanese news channel Al-Jadeed, the strike took place at 3 a.m. and targeted a Syrian weapons shipment to Hizbullah that was making its way to Al-Qutayfah. The report quoted local residents who reported hearing explosions, as well as eyewitnesses who claimed they saw Israeli jets flying at low altitude over the town of in Baalbek, northeast of Beirut.

Other media reports said that a Syrian military post was also destroyed in the strike. The post was reportedly used by the Syrian army's 155th Battalion, whose troops often oversee the regime's weapons shipments to the Shiite terrorist group. Syrian troops were reportedly using side roads to transport the weapons to Hizbullah, to avoid an Israeli strike.

Al-Masdar, a Tel Aviv based Arabic news site covering Israel-related affairs, reported IAF jets also flew over areas known to house Islamic State and al-Qaida hubs. Various Arab media outlets reported the IAF also struck targets in Lebanon.

Saudi Spy Chief Visits Israel, Ramallah

By DEBKAfile

The director of Saudi Arabia's General intelligence agency, Khalid Bin Ali Al Humaidan, paid surprise visits to Ramallah and Jerusalem on Tuesday and Wednesday. Neither Palestinian nor Israeli officials have confirmed that the visit took place.

Last week, DEBKA Weekly carried an exclusive report that Iranian engineers were working round the clock on a project dubbed "Riyadh First," for adding an extra 100 km to the intermediate range of the Scud-C (600 km) and Scud-D (700 km) surface missiles, to enable them to reach the Saudi capital and explode in the center of Riyadh. The project, which is going forward at the Al Ghadi base in Big Ganesh, 48 km west or Tehran, was ordered by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.

This plan was behind the threat made by IRGC Air Force Commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh on February 11, at the start of an Iranian military exercise: "Should the enemy make a mistake, our roaring missiles will rain down on them," he said. Gen. Hajizadeh, who is in charge of the missile testing site, ordered all other work halted in order to concentrate on the fast-track "Riyadh First" Scud development project. On February 4, Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthis fired a missile which they claimed was a homemade Borkan with a range of 800 km into Saudi Arabia. It struck the al-Mazahimiyah military camp west of Riyadh. According to our military sources, the Houthis don't possess a missile of that range. Their attack was in fact the first test of the newly-extended Iranian Scud, as a dress rehearsal for the real strike.

If the visit by the Saudi spy chief is confirmed, he will have come for several missions. In Ramallah, he would have warned the Palestinians not to go through with their bid to strengthen direct ties with Tehran (which was first revealed by DEBKAfile on February 13). The first meeting of Iranian and Palestinian delegations has already taken place in Brussels.

In Jerusalem, Al-Huymaidan may have explored security issues related to the US-Israeli-Arab regional conference proposed by President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they met in Washington on February 15.

DEBKAfile's sources note that the Saudi spy chief is a professional soldier and the first commoner to hold the post of Director of Saudi General Intelligence. Among his predecessors were high-ranking princes such as Bandar Bin Sultan, Turki Bin Faisal and Muqrin Bin Abdul Aziz.

Pence Prays at Vandalized Jewish Cemetery


Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday made an unannounced visit to the Jewish Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery near St. Louis which was vandalized earlier this week. "I spoke words earlier today in St. Louis that were from the heart. There is no place in America for hatred, prejudice, or acts of violence, or anti-Semitism," he said.

"I must tell you that the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place and the Jewish community. I want to thank you for that inspiration. For showing the world what America is all about," he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Vice President condemned the vandalism as he spoke in Missouri. "I would like to address something that happened here in St. Louis over the weekend. On Monday morning America awoke and discovered nearly 200 tombstones were toppled in a nearby Jewish cemetery.

"Speaking yesterday, President Trump called this a horrible and painful act, and so it was. That, along with other recent threats to Jewish community centers around the country. He declared it all a sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil. We condemn this act of vandalism and those who perpetrated in the strongest possible terms."

Gazans Excited Over Territory's First Indoor Mall

By VOA News

In a welcome sign of normalcy, the first indoor shopping mall - complete with an international retail chain, three-story bookstore and bustling food court - has opened in the Gaza Strip.

The owners have overcome conflict and an Israeli-Egyptian blockade to build the gleaming 1,800 square meter (19,000 sq. feet) Capital Mall. Now, they just have to find enough free-spending customers to keep the place afloat.

In many ways, the center is a reflection of the fragile local economy, which has been flooded by consumer goods from Israel that few people can afford. Stifled by the blockade, Gaza produces very little on its own, and poverty and unemployment have soared. The mall, like the rest of electricity-starved Gaza, requires a generator to keep the power flowing.

In the short term, the mall appears to be thriving. Thousands of Gazans have visited as it slowly opened in recent weeks, buying shoes and clothes from the Turkish chain "De Facto," searching for gifts and school supplies in the bookstore and heading up to the fourth-floor food court to enjoy burgers, pizza and ice cream. People can often be seen stumbling and giggling as they ride an escalator for the first time.

"The mall has added a beautiful touch to the Gaza Strip. Instead of visiting more than one place, we go to a specific place and select everything we need," said Hedaya Iqtifan, a university graduate who has been three times.

There are stores that sell perfume and makeup, home decor and mobile phones. There are clinics and office space, two parking lots and plans to bring a supermarket. The busiest area of the mall is the food court, where a cheeseburger with potato chips and a drink costs about $5. "We made this according to international standards to relay an image to the world that Gaza has a mall similar to the malls in other countries," said Mahmoud Haniya, the mall's executive director.

He noted that several international brands refused to allow franchises in Gaza due to the "stereotype they get about Gaza; a poor country with no economy." He declined to identify them, but several international brands, including KFC and Domino's Pizza, operate in the West Bank.

Gaza's already poor economy took a downturn after the Islamic terrorist group Hamas seized control of the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel and Egypt quickly imposed the blockade in what they say is a measure to prevent Hamas, an armed group sworn to Israel's destruction, from importing weapons. The blockade, along with three wars between Israel and Hamas, has caused the economy to grind to a near standstill.

Today, nearly 80% of Gaza's roughly 2 million people live below the poverty line. Unemployment is more than 40% and electricity is supplied for eight hours a day at best. Israel and Egypt, hostile to Hamas, restrict travel in and out of Gaza.

The Capital Mall spends $500 on diesel fuel for an industrial 400 KVA generator every 10 hours to keep the lights on. "It's like one of our partners," Haniya joked. The owners of the mall are well-known for running the "Mazaj" chain, a group of upscale coffee, desert and spice shops in Gaza City. They have no connection to Hamas, though the group will certainly benefit from increased tax revenues generated by the mall.

The mall is banking on Gaza's tiny middle class to stay in business. The Palestinian Authority continues to pay salaries to tens of thousands of former civil servants who have not worked for the past decade. Others include those who work for international aid groups or the United Nations, as well as some senior Hamas employees.

A small number of businessmen have also managed to profit from the consumer sector. As Israel allows in mostly consumer products, businessmen compete on how to best attract buyers, opening lavish supermarkets. A recently opened meat and vegetable shop offers smoked salmon and caviar as well as fresh and frozen fish.

On the other hand, restrictions on the delivery of raw materials and severe power shortages have kept most of Gaza's factories closed. "We are talking about a full, large trend by Gaza businessmen to get away from industry into consuming," said Mohammed Abu Jayyab, editor-in-chief of Gaza's economic newspaper Al-Eqtesadia. The Capital Mall, and a handful of smaller outdoor shopping centers, "are an expression of a crisis in the industrial and productive investment sector."

On a recent day, families passed by the glitzy stores at the Capital Mall. A group of women sat at a cafe while their children shopped or ran about. "We hope there will be something bigger than this in the future, similar to what we see in other countries," said Ibtessam Awaja, a mother in her 50s, who has traveled to Saudi Arabia for the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage, as well as Egypt and Jordan.

Construction on the mall began in 2012 - two years before a devastating war with Israel - when movement in and out of Gaza was better. Haniya said his mall has been full most of the time since it opened. But he fears that many people are coming just to look, and the number of visitors seems to be dwindling. "When we started building the mall four years ago, we were expecting that the situation would go in a better direction, but things have not improved," he said. "We hope the coming days will be better."

WWII-era Warsaw Jews Have 6 Months to Claim Property


Warsaw Municipality put out on Wednesday a list of 50 assets belonging to Jews, who were stolen from their owners either by Nazi or Communist forces during World War II. The municipality is asking the rightful owners to submit their claims sometime within the next six months, while Jewish organizations have been pressuring it to extend the deadline.

The 50-long list is the first out of a 2,613-item list of open property claim cases. The previous list did not include the names of the claimants. It was made public due to a law from September, 2016, saying that Holocaust survivors and their heirs have six months to appear and submit their claims anew from the moment the City of Warsaw will publicly mention the disputed property in local media. An additional three months were added for claimants to prove their rights to the property, before it will be transferred to the state or to the Warsaw Municipality.

It should be noted that the new law applies only in Warsaw and not the rest of Poland. Responding to the law, the World Jewish Restitution Organization, a new Warsaw database, in an effort to help Holocaust survivors and their heirs identify old claims before the Polish government claims the property for itself.

"It's critical that authorities in Poland make every effort to identify and notify potential petitioners of the list's publication," Said WJRO Operations Committee Chairperson Gideon Taylor. "We call on Poland to extend the extremely short deadline. This isn't fair to the petitioner, particularly those living outside of Poland, who will lose the last chance to reconnect to their past due to the administrative complexity of this law."

Taylor added that Poland "is the only country in Europe not to legislate a national law to return private property from the time of the Holocaust. We demand that the Polish government immediately deal with this problem, so Holocaust survivors and their heirs, as well as Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, will be given a pittance of justice."

Many Holocaust survivors who had returned to Poland filed property claims after 1945, under a Communist decree that had nationalized all Jewish property in Warsaw. Most of these claims were rejected or never solved, and as a result many survivors and their families are not even aware that they can still file their claims.

Steven Spielberg's Mother Dies


Leah Alder, the mother of world famous filmmaker Steven Spielberg, passed away Tuesday in Los Angeles at the age of 97,

Adler, born in Cincinnati to Jennie and Philip Posner, was raised in an observant Jewish household. She married Arnold Spielberg in 1945 and had four children: Steven, Anne, Sue, and Nancy. As an Orthodox Jewish family, the Spielbergs suffered from regular anti-Semitic harassment by neighbors. "We lived in an all non-Jewish neighborhood," Adler told 60 Minutes. "These people used to chant `The Spielbergs are dirty Jews.'"

In 1966 Adler divorced Arnold Spielberg, marrying his friend, Bernie Adler in 1967. Along with her husband, Adler maintained a kosher restaurant in Los Angeles called "The Milky Way." Adler is survived by her four children, 11 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren.

Waze Puts Early Morning Drivers to Jerusalem in a (Traffic) Jam


An error by the Waze navigation app caused a major headache for Israeli drivers heading to Jerusalem on Wednesday morning. Waze mistakenly said the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, Route 1, was closed during rush hour. Drivers who were forced to opt for the alternative Route 443 found themselves in major traffic jams, The Times of Israel reported.

Calling the incident "human error," Waze apologized and pledged to put into place procedures to prevent any recurrence. Waze, which was created by a team of Israelis, has over 50 million subscribers. Google acquired Waze in 2013 for nearly $1 billion.

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