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Damascus TV: Syrian Forces Take Strategic Hill Overlooking Israeli-controlled Golan Heights

By VOA News & DEBKAfile

Syrian TV said government forces captured a strategic hill overlooking the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights as they continue their drive to retake the last part of southwestern Syria still in rebel hands. Al-Haara hill is the highest point in Deraa province, which the rebels say has come under heavy Syrian and Russian bombardment over the last two days. The Syrians are carrying out the same strategy they used in other parts of the country — forcing the rebels to negotiate a surrender and allow them and their families to retreat to other rebel-controlled areas. The fighting in southern Syria has put Israel on high alert. The bombings are very close to the Syrian side of the demilitarized zone set up along the Israeli border after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel has warned Syria and its allies, Iran and Hizbullah, against deploying any forces in the zone, threatening a "harsh response." Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump promised to work together to keep unwanted forces away from the area. However, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's secret consent to hand the Golan crossing to Syria led to a Trump-Putin deal on Israel's border security Trump and Putin joined in their support for Israel's security at their Helsinki summit on Monday, July 16, after Netanyahu told them both that he had withdrawn his objections to the Syrian army reinstating its line of outposts in the Quenitra district, including control of the Ein Zivan-Quneitra border crossing. This is the only transit point between Israel and Syria. DEBKAfile's sources reveal that Putin insisted on the Syrian army assuming control of this crossing, in the same way as he stipulated the handover to Syria of the Nassib crossing to Jordan. DRBKAfile's military sources note that only 20% of the Syrian army consists of Syrian troops; the other 80% are Hizbullah and other Shiite militias loyal to Iran. Today's Syrian and allied victory, therefore, brings these hostile forces to within 3-4 km from Israel's Golan border. Neither president referred to the removal of Iran and its proxies from Syria, as Israel has demanded. Putin appeared to say that Israeli security was served by the Israeli-Syrian 1974 Separation of Forces agreement on the Golan and advised extending it to the Syrian-Jordanian border as well. Trump noted: "We both talk to Benjamin Netanyahu, work with him on Syria and agree on the importance of Israel's safety."

Israel Strikes Two Hamas Posts in Response to Incendiary Aerial Devices

By the Jerusalem Post

A projectile launched from Gaza in the direction of Israel fell short of the border in the Gaza Strip on Monday, hours after Israel struck Hamas positions in Gaza. The mortar, which set off rocket sirens in communities in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council near the northern border of the strip, reportedly caused two audible explosions. Earlier in the afternoon, the Israeli Air Force struck two Hamas positions in northern Gaza after Palestinians had launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel earlier in the day. According to Palestinian sources, the drone strike occurred near Beit Hanoun and left several wounded. The strikes came two days into a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas after Hamas launched 200 mortars and rockets into southern Israel and Israel struck 40 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday visited the southern Israeli city of Sderot and told reporters that there would be no ceasefire with Hamas unless aerial incendiary devices stop. "To us, there is no such thing as a ceasefire that excludes the incendiary kites and balloons. No such thing. I'll say this for the seventh time, and I hope it gets through, but if it's not understood by my words, it will be understood by the IDF's actions," he said. Israel says it has lost at least 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres) of farmland, nature reserves and forests because of the fires caused by flaming kites and balloons. On Sunday, the military launched a series of drills including one in the South simulating war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The division drill, which is to last until Sunday, will also see the 162nd Armored Division's 401rst Brigade simulate the capturing of Gaza City by IDF troops. The drill, which is using areas in Be'er Sheva as well as several Bedouin towns in the Negev also sees troops from the armored, infantry, engineering and artillery corps train for a variety of scenarios inside enemy territory including handling the local civilian population. The division drill will also see the 162nd Armored Division simulate the capturing of Gaza City by IDF troops. Capt. Sagi Cohen, who is taking part in the drill, told The Jerusalem Post that the drill would focus on tactics and lessons from Operation Protective Edge, the last conflict with the terror group. Soldiers taking part in the exercises will drill on fighting tunnels as well as in urban and open areas. "We understand that all of Gaza has tunnels underneath it, something that we didn't understand in Operation Protective Edge. Urban combat is not clean; there could be tunnels anywhere," Cohen said. While the IDF maintained that exercises had been planned in advance "as part of the annual training program," they come as tensions have once again risen along the border with the Hamas-run coastal enclave and according to reports in Hebrew-language press a senior IDF officer in the southern command said that the 162nd Division would be scrambled to the border if needed. "We want to be as prepared as possible," he said, adding that "we are ready for war with Gaza, even if it began yesterday." And according to Cohen, his troops are prepared: "We don't make decisions but if the decision is made that we need to go to war then the troops are ready, and we will do what is needed." On Monday, the IDF addressed a speech which was set to be given by Iran's Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force. Solemani was supposed to speak in Tehran and his speech carried via satellite to the Gaza Strip to the crowd at the "Wet Gunpowder" festival organized by Iran for the past several years across the Middle East. According to Yossi Mansharof, a researcher of Iran and Shiite communities at the Ezri Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, the speech delivered by Solemani "comes in retaliation for designation of Resistance Axis and its officials as terror entities by the US." Mansharof told the Post that a speech by Solemani to residents of the Gaza Strip is rare and shows the explicit support by Tehran and the IRGC's Quds force to back Hamas' "current aggressive campaign against Israel. "This is actually the first time he is publicly participating, by video, in a local gathering," he said, adding that Hamas leadership under Yahya Sinwar has chosen "to enhance its relation with Iran at the expense of Egypt. What Soleimani will be talking about is anybody's guess. The development of the Strip?" read an Arabic-language Facebook post by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. "Rebuilding its offices and homes? Increasing the electricity supply? Water? Help for the needy? Iran has invested considerable funding in Hamas, but not in Gaza Strip itself or in is residents. Soleimani doesn't care about the people of Syria and he doesn't care about the Gazans – who should wake up before the Gaza Strip turns into a neighborhood of Tehran." Israeli officials have accused Iran of growing involvement in the Hamas-run enclave, both financially and militarily. Hamas leader Yihya Sinwar has boasted about his close ties to Hizbullah and Iran, including Soleimani and Salah al-Arouri, the deputy head of Hamas' political wing, who visited Tehran and met with Solemani and other senior Iranian officials following his appointment. In December Soleimani offered Iran's support to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. According to the IRGC's website, Sepah News, Soleimani made the offer in a telephone conversation with commanders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — the armed wing of Hamas. Sepah noted that Soleimani stated that other "resistance forces" in the region were also ready to support Palestinians.

Proving Itself to Iran, Hamas is Deliberately Playing with Fire

By Elior Levy (Commentary YnetNews)

Hamas reached a dead-end after Israel closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing. But the organization launched 200 rockets and bombs to impress Iran. An organization that wants a ceasefire, as Israel claims, does not do that. Nor does it send incendiary kites and balloons into Israeli communities. Last Tuesday, as a punitive measure against incendiary balloons and kites terrorism, Israel announced that the Kerem Shalom border crossing is closing its doors. Only humanitarian goods will be allowed into the Gaza Strip. In fact, Israel only allows the entry of fuel, food, fruit, flour, and other necessities to Gaza, and bans entry of electrical appliances, electronic equipment and construction supplies intended for international real estate developments in the strip. Some people in Gaza criticized Hamas's handling of the situation. Critics say that in the final analysis, after a long, publicized and bloodstained campaign called the "Great March of Return," which has raised awareness on the Palestinian issue in Israel and worldwide, Hamas's actions only intensified the siege on Gaza. As a result, Palestinians suddenly finds themselves in a dead-end road. The "Great March of Return" demonstrations have since lost momentum and reached a point of exhaustion. The only people who confront the IDF are Hamas members wearing civilian clothes and poor young Palestinians who receive pocket money for their participation. The reconciliation with Fatah, in which Hamas' leader Yahya Sinwar put all his hopes, led to nothing. In addition, attempts to approach the Saudi axis were met with Riyadh's (the capital of Saudi Arabia) reluctance. Qatar, which was Gaza's regular ATM, is currently facing its own problems with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. At the height of Hamas' "Great March of Return," the only country that gave something in exchange for keeping the peace, was Egypt, which has since opened the Rafah border crossing with Gaza. But this confectionary alone cannot last long. According to sources in the Gaza Strip, the organization is in the midst of a severe financial crisis. The only country willing to give money to Hamas today is Iran, the sources added. For this reason, Hamas' leader Sinwar is interested in the Iranian axis's support. He needs Iranian cash. Not just for the civilian wing of the movement, but for the military one as well. In this context, it should be remembered that Yahya Sinwar is, in essence, a member of the military wing of Hamas. He and Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamas's military wing, both founded the division, and see eye to eye on its needs, as opposed to former Hamas leader Khaled Mashal. Mashal came of age in the political wing abroad, not in Gaza's tunnels, as opposed to Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's senior political leader who grew up in the strip. Haniyeh is much more attentive to the needs of Gaza and its leaders than Mashal. But why is this important? Because in order to receive Iranian money, Hamas has to prove Iran that it deserves it. A public statement—which is in fact a commitment that any Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip will be met with bombs on Israeli land in the Gaza vicinity—is exactly what the Iranians are looking for. In this delicate web of terror, Hamas is consciously walking on the edge. Hamas knows that its response to the current or next round (and there will be a next round, without a doubt), could lead to an all-inclusive confrontation, and it is ready to take this risk. "This is an escalation that is inevitable for Hamas, given the dead-end that it reached," a source in the Gaza Strip said. Hamas is willing to take this risk because it knows that rocking the boat miraculously propels all parties involved to seek a long-term agreement that will ease the siege on Gaza. Hamas, therefore, has no other choice. Senior security officials recently started briefing reporters on the fact that "Hamas wants a ceasefire." In the previous round, it was "Hamas begged Egypt for a ceasefire." An organization that begs for a ceasefire will not fire 200 rockets and mortar bombs at the Gaza vicinity. An organization that wants to put an end to the fire does not make an effort to wake Gaza's residents in the middle of the night, while they sleep in shelters. Besides, according to the Israeli defense establishment, Hamas is uninterested in escalating conflicts in the Middle East.

Poland Honors Satirist who Said Jews Create Anti-Semitism


A Polish satirist who in 2016 made anti-Semitic jokes on television and later accused Jews of fomenting hatred against themselves was awarded his country's highest distinction for artists. Ryszard Makowski, 62, was awarded the Gloria Artis Medal for Merit to Culture on Thursday along with 20 others by Culture Minister Piotr Gli?ski in Warsaw, the wPolityce news website reported. Makowski won the bronze medal, the lowest of three categories in the distinction awarded annually to artists by the ministry. "It is an expression of thanks by Poland for your creativity and for your commitment, for your talent – that is always augmented with work, perseverance, creative courage," Gli?ski said in presenting the award. In 2016, B'nai B'rith Poland protested Makowski's performance on the public broadcaster TVP3 over a song with words saying that dishonest banking practices have been around for as long as "tsimmes and gescheft" – Yiddish words that mean a sweet carrot stew and business, respectively. The song also references the Rothschild Jewish family. In March, Makowski wrote in wPolityce about the protest by Israel and Jewish organizations against a law that criminalized blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. The law was amended last month. "One may suspect that this ostentatious struggle of Jewish circles," he wrote, "is aimed at sparking up anti-Semitic moods." The Polish association Never Again, which monitors hate crimes and speech in Poland, wrote in a statement that the honoring of Makowski is astounding as he is a "well-known author of songs and articles which are strongly rooted in anti-Semitic stereotypes and prejudices." Rafal Pankowski, a co-founder of the association, added that "given the fragility of the Polish-Jewish relations especially this year," following the diplomatic crisis caused by the law, "I am truly surprised by the Minister's decision. As a citizen of Poland, this medal is not awarded in my name!" Anti-Semitism, Pankowski said, is something that his association refuses to see as "part of the Polish culture and heritage which deserves to be celebrated by the official representatives of the Polish state."

New Terror Tactic: Bird Sent with Flammable Substance over Gaza Border


A bird was sent from Gaza into Israel with a flammable substance attached to it. The falcon was found Monday near the Besor River, the longest river in the Negev. A harness with explosive material was attached to the animal's leg. Thousands of fires have been set in southern Israel in recent months by arson attacks originating from Gaza. Terrorists started the fires by attaching firebombs to kites and helium balloons and sending the devices over the border with Israel. Thousands of acres of farmland, crops, and nature reserves have been destroyed by the fires, causing millions of shekels in damage and killing numerous animals. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories posted on Twitter that "Arson fires have been caused by incendiary materials flown from Gaza into Israel. Apparently it's not enough to destroy nature with kites, now falcons are being used for terror as well."

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