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Russia Thanks Israel for Striking ISIS Targets in Syria

By World Israel News

Russia's Ministry of Defense on Thursday issued a rare statement thanking the IDF for a strike it conducted against Islamic State (ISIS) targets in southern Syria in retaliation for ISIS rocket fire on Israel. On Wednesday, ISIS fired two Grad rockets at Israel's north, setting off sirens in the area. The rockets landed in the Kinneret, Sea of Galilee, causing no damage or injuries. The beaches were full of swimmers nearby amid the summer vacation season. In response, the IDF aircraft targeted the rocket launcher from which they were fired. IDF artillery targeted the area surrounding it. "Russian armed forces' command in Syria used the existing communication channels to thank the IDF leadership for killing terrorists and stopping a massive provocation," the Ministry said in a statement, according to Russia's Sputnik News. "A precision strike by jets and IDF artillery operatively destroyed Daesh (Arabic acronym for ISIS) terrorists and their rocket launchers," the Russian ministry stated. The IDF estimates that the ISIS fire was a spillover from the intense fighting between Bashar al-Assad's advancing armies and rebel forces based adjacent to Israel border with Syria. Ynet reported that Israeli defense officials believe ISIS launched the rockets at Israel as a provocation in an attempt to make Israel attack the Syrian army in retaliation. This assessment is based on the fact Assad's army was attacking ISIS from the north and east, and so any fire to the west, towards Israel, would have to be intentional, they say.

Authorities Weigh Replacing Stone that Fell Out of Western Wall

By Israel Hayom

A stone that fell out of the Western Wall earlier this week and landed near an egalitarian prayer plaza at the holy site was removed from the premises by crane Wednesday. The block, weighing hundreds of pounds, was carried out of the way to an area near the Mughrabi Bridge. A Western Wall Heritage Foundation official said Wednesday that the stone had been removed to a closed-off area that could not be accessed by the public. "The stone will be kept there and receive the best care – both in professional terms [as antiquity] and as a holy object because the place is considered a holy site," the official said. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation met with experts from the Israel Antiquities Authority a number of times this week to devise the best approach to dealing with the stone. One possibility entailed replacing the stone in the wall. "The stone can be reaffixed, but there is concern that it won't stay in place because of its weight," the official said. "The stone could be drilled back into place, but that raises problems with Halachah [Jewish law]. The stones of the Western Wall cannot be damaged because of their holiness." An investigation into the unusual dislodging of a stone revealed that it was just a matter of time before this particular stone came loose. "The stone bore signs of dust, which means the stone was in the process of detaching. It wasn't a sudden occurrence," the official said.

Abbas' Fatah: Israel Planning to Destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque

By the Jerusalem Post

The stone that fell from the Western Wall earlier this week proves that Israel has devised a plan to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a spokesperson for the ruling Fatah faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claimed on Thursday. The Palestinians have since used the incident to revive their long-standing charge that Israel is planning to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque to rebuild the Third Temple. Osama Qawassmeh, a spokesperson for Fatah, said on Thursday that the dislodging of the stone was a "dangerous sign of what was happening in the al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings" – a reference to the archaeological work that has been going on near the Temple Mount for decades in the site called the Davidson Center, the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. "We affirm that al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings, including what is beneath it, are purely Islamic," Qawassmeh said. "The Jews have no right to it." He said that visits by Jews to the Temple Mount, as well as Israeli archaeological excavations "beneath" the compound, which Palestinians call al-Haram ash-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), are a "crime against all religions and a blatant violation of the sanctity of the religion of Islam." The Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, and heads of the Waqf Department recently claimed that ongoing Israeli archaeological excavations "endangered" al-Aqsa Mosque.

Netanyahu Discusses 'Druze Needs' over Nationality Law Protest

By YnetNews

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held a meeting with government ministers and Knesset members Thursday about the needs of the Druze community ahead of his meeting Friday with Druze leaders in the wake of their protest over the Nationality Law. The prime minister will meet on Friday with the Druze community's dignitaries, including spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafak Tarif. Tarif said he was happy to accept the prime minister's invitation to meet, as long as the meeting will focus on amending the Nationality Law. "We are not talking about other problems right now, like the budget. We want to know the Druze's status under the Nationality Law and understand how the law's definition of the Druze's status and rights will affect the community. This is our current concern. This, and nothing more," he said. On Sunday, coalition party leaders will discuss the matter to formulate a plan to help resolve the real issues facing the Druze community in Israel. Also, the government will consider promoting legislation to give preference to Druze who serve or served in the IDF. During Thursday's meeting, Netanyahu and the other officials discussed the possibility of adding to a law passed in May that sets a day in the State of Israel's official national calendar celebrating the Druze community and their contribution to the country. Alternatively, the coalition could propose new legislation to establish the Druze community's status in the State of Israel. Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday criticized the law that he and his party members voted for. "Following conversations with many of our Druze brothers, it appears that the way we passed the Nationality Law was detrimental to the Druze community and to those who link their fate with the Jewish state," Bennett wrote in his Twitter account. "This, of course, is not the intention of the Israeli government. These are our blood brothers who made a covenant with us, and stand with us, shoulder to shoulder, on the battlefield. We, the Government of Israel, have a responsibility to find a way to bridge the gap," Bennett stated. Netanyahu put all of his weight behind the Nationality Law, which states that the State of Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and that Hebrew is the official language of the state. Arabic was defined as having a special status, with the official state use of Arabic to be determined in separate legislation. Under the previous version of the bill, which passed in its first reading in May, the Arabic language was to receive special status and state services were to be made accessible in Arabic as well. This week, 100 Druze IDF officers in reserves, many of them with a rich record of fighting in Israel's various wars over the years, have joined the fight against the law. Several of the Druze reserve officers expressed anger for being excluded from Israeli society despite the fact they served and continued to serve the country. "I don't understand why this law is necessary. Is somebody questioning that the fact the country is Jewish? This law only creates second-class citizens," Brig. Gen. (res.) Imad Fares lamented.

Romanian Minister Compares Killing Sick Pigs to Auschwitz

By Reuters & JTA

Israel reacted with "dismay and disappointment" on Thursday to a comment by Romanian Agriculture Minister Petre Daea, who compared the slaughter of sick pigs to the murder of Jews at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp. Daea's remark was made in a brief televised interview detailing veterinary health measures to halt the spread of African swine fever at a breeding farm in southern Romania, with 44,580 pigs being culled. He said: "The pigs (at the farm) are all incinerated ... it's extraordinary work; it's like Auschwitz." In a statement on Thursday Daea, a Social Democrat, apologized, saying: "I only wanted to present the particularly difficult situation facing pig breeders from African swine fever. In my soul there is a lot of pain, I wanted to describe the awful moments our farmers face." In its statement expressing dismay, the Israeli embassy in Bucharest said: "We hope ... that Minister Daea made such an association because of the lack of in-depth information on what the Holocaust and Auschwitz are, without the intention of dishonoring the memory of millions of victims." Romania has only in recent years started to come to terms with its role in the extermination of Jews, admitting for the first time in 2003 that it took part. Sensitivity towards the Holocaust and knowledge of it remain patchy. During World War Two, Jews from across Europe were sent to death camps built and operated by the Germans, including Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland. Romania was an ally of Nazi Germany until August 1944 when it changed sides, and much of the Jewish property seized during the war was later nationalized by the communist dictatorship that followed. According to a 2004 report by a commission headed by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed by civilian and military authorities in Romania and areas they controlled during the war. Romania had a pre-war Jewish population of about 800,000, but fewer than 11,000 Jews now live in the EU member state, which has a total population of around 20 million.

Israel Risks Falling Behind on Inflation in Bid to Weaken Shekel

By Bloomberg News

For much of Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug's five-year term, she fought tooth and nail against shekel bulls as they propelled the currency to record highs, undercutting exporter profits. Now, as the shekel finally weakens amid a global surge in the dollar, Flug is facing a new conundrum: what to do about the reappearance of inflation as her term comes to an end? If she adopts a more hawkish stance, she risks giving back the shekel weakness she fought so hard for. If she sticks to her current policy, she risks falling behind on rising prices. For now, Flug is prioritizing the currency, charting out a slow trajectory of interest-rate increases. At the bank's July 9 monetary policy discussion, Flug said the central bank wants to see annual inflation inside its target range of 1% to 3% for several months before it will begin normalizing rates. For Rafael Gozlan, chief economist at Israel Brokerage & Investments Ltd., that signals further shekel weakness ahead. "Flug's announcement that the Bank of Israel intended to wait until inflation, especially actual inflation as opposed to expectations, settled down, essentially positions the bank behind the curve at this stage," said Gozlan. He predicted that inflation-linked bonds would gain as the market's inflation expectations rise. As in the rest of the developed world, inflation has largely been absent in Israel for the past three years but is now rising, spelling the end of the global easy-money era. The BOI's monetary policy committee has kept its benchmark interest rate at a record low of 0.1% for the past three years and bought billions of dollars to keep the shekel from appreciating too quickly. Leading up to the last rate decision, investors started betting the central bank would get ahead of the curve and signal a more hawkish stance. With prices rising for everything from wages to rent to food, Israel's benchmark bond yield surged 19 points higher in the month leading up to the decision. Then came Flug's carefully worded message on inflation, which investors interpreted as dovish, sending yields down 14 basis points in the two days following the decision. "We believe that despite the overall rise in headline inflation and robust growth dynamics, the monetary policy committee will deliberately keep its dovish communication style at least until year-end to fend off renewed appreciation pressure on the shekel," said Christian Wietoska, emerging-markets fixed-income strategist at Deutsche Bank AG in London. Israel's economic growth has surpassed analyst expectations in recent quarters, and the central bank's research department expects it to reach 3.7% this year. Prices are expected to rise 1.4% over the next 12 months. Yet Flug doesn't want to pull the trigger on rates before she's certain inflation has found its footing. It may well fall to the next governor to steer the bank in a new direction. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have been meeting with candidates to replace Flug, whose five-year term ends November 12. The governor, who has clashed with the two men over how to steer Israel's economy, told Netanyahu earlier this month she won't seek to extend her tenure. The BOI's research department anticipates interest rates rising to 0.25% in the fourth quarter of this year, with another increase in the third quarter of 2019. That pace suggests a significant gap could open with the U.S., where the lending rate is already at 1.75% to 2% and is expected to rise more quickly. Those projections are leading analysts to revise their forecasts for the shekel, with the median estimate among seven contributors surveyed by Bloomberg predicting the shekel will trade at 3.61 per dollar by year-end, compared with an estimate of 3.45 at the start of the year. "The Bank of Israel has no need to change its stance aggressively, and for now the Bank of Israel is, in fact, welcoming the depreciation seen on the foreign currency front," Wietoska said. "Nevertheless, there's a limit to how wide the gap in interest rate differentials to the U.S. can become."

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