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Iran Revolutionary Guards colonel killed in strike in Syria, state media says

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Iran Revolutionary Guards colonel killed in strike in Syria, state media says



A member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards navy serving as a military adviser in Syria was killed in a suspected Israeli strike on Friday, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported.

Other Iranian media reports said Colonel Reza Zarei was killed along with two fighters from Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group.

Zarei was killed in a strike on a building used by Iranian forces in Syria’s coastal region of Tartous, a senior security source from the alliance supporting Syria’s government told Reuters.

When asked about the strike, the Israeli military said it did not comment on foreign reports.

A view shows a damaged building after, according to Syrian state media reports, several Israeli missiles hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district, Damascus, Syria February 21, 2024 (credit: REUTERS/SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

Airstrikes in Syria

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria due to an alleged spate of deadly Israeli strikes and were relying more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, Reuters reported in February.

Israel has mostly struck areas around the capital Damascus but strikes in Tartous are rare.

This is a developing story.  

 

  





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For the second time this week: an Israeli citizen entered Kalkilya – and was murdered

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For the second time this week: an Israeli citizen entered Kalkilya – and was murdered



An Israeli citizen who entered Kalkilya on Saturday morning with his car was shot dead by local residents, according to Palestinian reports cited by Israeli media.

A large number of IDF troops entered the city after an Israeli citizen entered the city center with his vehicle was shot at around seven on Saturday morning.

The shooting was carried out on the main street, after which the vehicles were set on fire. About an hour ago, the victim was brought by a medical team of the Red Crescent to the entrance to the city. An IDF medical team pronounced the victim dead.

Photos from the scene show his car being set alight and his driver’s license being taken. Local Palestinians told Israeli media the car was torched well after the shooting.

IDF soldiers operating near Kalkilya in the West Bank, May 5, 2024. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON’S UNIT)

Kalkilya hotspot

This is the third event in Kalkilya in the last 48 hours.

On Thursday, an Israeli in his 70s was robbed and attacked. The paramedic team met him at the Eliyahu checkpoint, where he was pronounced dead.

On Friday afternoon, two Islamic Jihad operatives, who were on their way to carry out a terror attack against Israelis, were eliminated by the IDF in Qalqilya.

The operation was carried out after the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) gathered intelligence that the two intended to carry out an attack soon.

As a result, the soldiers of the police’s Gideon unit were rushed to the area. After identifying the two, they started an arrest procedure, at the end of which they fired at the two terrorists.





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Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, foreign ministry announces

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Armenia recognizes Palestine as a state, foreign ministry announces



Armenia recognized Palestine as a state on Friday morning, according to Russian TASS news agency, citing Armenia’s foreign affairs ministry. 

Armenia supports a UN resolution on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and is in favor of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the same statement said.

Indeed, Armenia remained notably silent after the October 7 massacre. It became vocal only three weeks later when the United Nations General Assembly put forth a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Gaza. Armenia was one of the 121 countries which voted in favor.

Armenia has become more and more closely associated with Iran in recent years amid the rising tensions with Azerbaijan. Several sources reported 2023 spotting Iranian soldiers on the Armenian side of the border with Azerbaijan. 

According to French reports, Iran sent agents to Yerevan to manage the Blue Mosque, which was built in Armenia during Iran’s rule.

A protester holds up a Palestinian flag as riot police stand guard near the Israel Embassy during a demonstration in support of Palestinians, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Mexico City, Mexico May 28, 2024. (credit: REUTERS/HENRY ROMERO)

Iran and Israel have been consistently opposed, with Iran attacking Israel in a massive bombardment of rockets and missiles in April.

In addition, Armenia is an observer state of the Arab League. Palestine is recognized as a member state in said league.

Antisemitism has been rampant in Armenia since the war broke out, as well, with Jewish communities in the region fearful and having been attacked several times.

Reuters contributed to this report.





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Commemorating ‘Sayfo’: The untold genocide of the Aramean Christians

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Commemorating ‘Sayfo’: The untold genocide of the Aramean Christians



Every year on June 15, the small Aramean community in Israel and across the globe commemorates the “Sayfo,” the untold genocide of their ancestors, which took place over a century ago under Ottoman rule. 

The Jerusalem Post reached out to Shadi Khalloul, an Aramean activist and educator from the northern community of Gush Halav (Jish), to hear more about the tragic affair and the community today.

“Our memorial day is very similar to Holocaust Memorial Day,” explained Khalloul. “We hold commemorative ceremonies and learn about the history of our people and the hardships they faced.

“The meaning of the word Sayfo is ‘sword,’” he continued. “On this occasion, we remember the hundreds of thousands of Arameans who were murdered by the Ottomans and all kinds of criminals who were released from prisons and carried out the ethnic cleansing in our villages, pillaged them and took away our land and properties.”

The Sayfo is less known than its Armenian counterpart, despite the fact that it took place in the same period of time, by the same perpetrators, and for the same reasons. 

Remnants of Biram (credit: Avital Perelshtein)

“Though a more ‘silent’ ethnic cleansing of our people by the Ottomans began as early as 1895, when World War I broke out, the Ottomans accelerated their actions in their effort to purge the areas under their control of any trace of millions of the indigenous Christian populations,” added Khalloul. 

“This includes Armenians, Pontic Greek, and even the Maronites of Lebanon, who faced systemic starvation in the disaster known in Aramaic as ‘Kafno’, or ‘the hunger.'”

Who exactly are the Arameans?

“The Arameans are a Semitic people who attribute their past to Aram, the son of Shem who was son of Noah. We are also related to the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish nation, as Abraham, Rivka, Leah, Rachel – all of them are mentioned in the Bible as Aramean.

“Originally, we lived in what is now Southeast Turkey and the Northern part of the Levant. There were several historical Aramean kingdoms, including Aram Zoba, Aram Naharayim, and others, including Tadmor, which is now known as Palmyra in Syria, most of them following a polytheistic religion.

“Our forefathers accepted Christianity very early on, as Jesus himself spoke Aramaic, just like them. According to tradition, St. Peter himself, who was from Galilee, founded the first church in Antioch, and to this day, the patriarch in Lebanon is called Butrus after him. 

Over time, we split into different denominations, and today, there are several ones with varying names, including Maronites, Syriac, Assyrian, Chaldeans, and others. Some of us use Aramaic as a liturgical language, and others even as their daily spoken language. So yes, we have our own customs, a flag, and even a sense of collective memory as persecuted people who went through hardships and massacres.”

Can you tell us more about the events of the Sayfo?

“The Ottomans allegedly ‘feared’ that the Christians in areas under their control would pose a threat by drawing Western powers, and therefore they decided that the ‘threat’ must be removed. World War I was a time of great chaos which allowed for many atrocities to be committed. Interestingly, there are even accounts that German officers, who were allied with the Ottomans, advised them on the best methods to carry out these acts of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

“The acts themselves were horrid. There were deadly incursions into villages, forced marches into the desert without water and under a scorching sun. There was rape, of course, and intimidation with piles of skulls. There was abuse, torture, and starvation. In some instances, they took the men and placed them on the war fronts as cannon fodder.

“We heard many stories of the Sayfo in my family. My father’s aunt hid her husband at home, and the Ottomans tied her legs to a horse and dragged her in the village streets so that she would admit where her husband was. She was pregnant and miscarried and has not had any children since then. In the end she died when she was 95 years old, and I remember her telling us what the Ottomans did. My grandfather would always curse the Ottomans, like Jews curse the Nazis to this day for what they did to them. When Israel came along and gave them freedom, they praised Israel with all their heart.”

What are the current prospects with the Turkish state?

“The Arameans, just like the Armenians, have asked the Turkish state to take responsibility for these actions. This is not meant to harm them, but rather to bring about justice and reconciliation, because without recognition it is impossible to correct things and turn a new page. The Germans also did what they did brutally but eventually recognized it and compensated their victims. So far, the Turkish state has denied these atrocities, unfortunately, some even indicating that they would do it again.”

Discovering my own identity

Khalloul said that as a child, he was always told that his identity was that of a Maronite from Biram. “I didn’t really understand what it meant. Growing up during the First Lebanon War, I also knew that the Maronites were fighting alongside Israel against the Palestinians.

Shadi Khalloul (credit: Jana Shimonov)

“There was this child in my class, his name was Ayman Odeh. When we were in the 8th grade, he became an extreme communist activist and would tell me that we were ‘traitors.’ But I was actually proud of the fact that we were fighting a common enemy with the Jews.

“Eventually I told myself that I must understand my past better. One day my brother came back from church and said that our priest had just gotten back from Lebanon, studied Aramaic, and introduced our old-new identity as Arameans. For me it was even more confusing. I always thought we belonged to a different religious minority, but now I suddenly found out that we were also from a different nation or ethnic group.

“So we borrowed history books from the church, where we discovered the history which no one has ever taught us at the Arab schools we attended. It was as if a completely different world was revealed to me: we have a history, an identity, a nationality, an ethnicity – not just a religion. I still remember the excitement of discovering it.”

Later on in line, after finishing his military service as a paratrooper, Khalloul moved to the US where he studied international business administration and finance. “I was ready to build my American dream,” he added, smiling.

In his last semester, Khalloul had to enroll in an advanced English course. “It was either Shakespeare or a course named ‘The Bible as English Literature.’ I said I would take the Bible because I feel closer to that. 

One day, one of the students was reading from the New Testament, saying: ‘Talitha Komi.’ The professor stopped her and said that this sentence had remained in Aramaic even in the English translation of the Bible, which was the language of Jesus. He also said that ‘unfortunately, the language is now extinct.’

“I felt as if I had been slapped in the face. I intervened and told him: ‘What do you mean by extinct? We still pray in Aramaic, we have newspapers, TV stations, we will not disappear. We still exist.’ When he asked me who I was, I told him that I am an Israeli Maronite Aramean. He answered, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve never heard about this group. Now please prepare a presentation about the topic for the next class.

“At first, I thought to myself ‘why did I have to open my mouth,’ but then I contacted my brother and got some materials and prepared a presentation. Everyone listened and were truly intrigued, and I chose to finish class by teaching the students the famous Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the original language in which Jesus recited it. Suddenly people started crying, they wanted to touch me as if I came from another world. They asked: how can you help your people, your language, your community?

“I asked myself: why do these Americans want to help my community? I wanted to go away and build my American dream, and here they want to help the place where I come from? The experience was like a revelation to me.”

Khalloul decided to go back to Israel and establish the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association. As a group interested in reinforcing their collective identity, they turned to the Ministry of Education, where they received permission from then minister Gideon Sa’ar to open a school where they taught grades 1-8, much to the dismay of Arab Members of Knesset. “(MK Ahmed) Tibi and (MK Ayman) Odeh decided we were traitors and attacked us. But it did not stop us. We set up an Aramean summer camp, and I also promoted recruitment for the Aramean community to the IDF. In my view, we must cultivate and strengthen our community’s sense of collective identity not to seclude ourselves, but rather to fit in and take part in our societies.”

Historical recognition and challenges on the way

Khalloul had an educational goal to his activism: to open a joint Christian-Aramaic-Jewish ‘mechina’ (pre-military institution). “It had a twofold purpose: for our Aramean youth to strengthen the sense of Israeli-ness, the Hebrew language, understanding of the Israeli culture and the Jewish majority; and for the Jewish youth to learn about us, our history and our culture. The mechina runs now for the eighth consecutive year, contributing to both sides who engage in mutual learning.”

Khalloul’s activism reached its peak with a historical decision by the Israeli government to recognize Arameans as a nationality in official registrations. “In 2014 I convinced the government and the Minister of the Interior Gideon Sa’ar to recognize the Armenian nationality in the State of Israel,” Khalloul said excitedly. 

“This effort entailed acquiring three independent opinions from the Universities of Haifa, Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan. It was a historic step and a huge achievement, not just a superficial or semantic one. Because, in the deepest sense, once the state recognizes your nationality, it also recognizes your needs as a community, including educational, cultural and budgetary ones. We also hope that this recognition will be followed by a formal recognition of the Sayfo,” Khalloul added.

Here too, Arab MKs attacked and incited against them, but Khalloul and his colleagues continued their hard work.

Today there are between 15-25 thousand Arameans in Israel, all entitled to correct their formal registration, though a series of bureaucratic barriers still remains to be solved. 

For this reason, Khalloul still finds himself lobbying in the Knesset amongst both right- and left-wing parliamentarians, describing he finds both sides of the aisle to be understanding and attentive. “Who knows, maybe Arameans will eventually be the ones to unite the Jews from the left and right,” he added laughingly.

Another challenge faced by the Aramean community and a focal point for Khalloul’s activism is the issue of Biram, the only Maronite village to have existed in Israel. In 1948, residents of the village were evacuated to nearby Gush Halav (Jish) from the border area with Lebanon due to dangers posed from the border during the war, and Israeli authorities had promised villagers that they will return to their homes once the situation calmed down – a promise not kept thus far. 

“Then president Haim Weizman even sent a letter to Maronite Patriarch Antonius Arida writing that he has no intention of dispossessing ‘his sons’ of their lands,” added Khalloul.

There were many attempts to settle the issue. Already in 1952, a supreme court order called on the government to allow the return to houses that were still standing, “but inner fighting between parties brought the issue to a halt. Menachem Begin once went up to the stage of the Knesset and promised to return the people of Biram if he were elected, and even pledged to buy half a dunum and come to live with us,” Khalloul added bitterly.

“There was a petition circling that asked the Israeli government to recruit Arameans to mandatory conscription and in return they will protect the northern border in their village of Biram. However, a 1995 committee concluded on the story of Biram that the villagers should be compensated with 600 dunams in a nearby area to build a new town. In 1998 The Ministry of Defense had a plan to build a new Biram, including a neighborhood for the Southern Lebanon Army soldiers who were expected to immigrate to Israel, but that did not happen either.”

Khalloul revealed that during World War II, Biram was a strategic location where Jews who escaped the holocaust in Europe and the riots in Arab countries such as Iraq and Syria were smuggled through en route to the Jewish Agency offices in Haifa. “This is our humble contribution to saving some of the Jews from the Holocaust,” he added.

Khalloul now lobbies for the state to keep its promise to the Aramean minority, believing that an establishment of an Aramean-Maronite town in Israel would not only be just but also a strategic blow for Hezbollah and other war-mongering groups in the area, as he described them.

“This will completely dismantle the line of violent so-called ‘resistance’ that Hezbollah talks about. It would signal to Maronites in Lebanon that it is possible to build trust between them and Israel, as well as with all the minorities in the area who want to live in peace. It would strengthen the line that seeks dialogue and brings results by peace, as opposed to Nasrallah’s war strategy.”

Are you in contact with other Aramean minorities, or are you more of a secluded community?

“Actually, we’re the ones living openly, while our brethren from across the border are the secluded ones, unable to contact us due to fear of being persecuted. In Israel we live freely, in a democratic society, we enjoy freedom of speech and worship. I myself was an officer in the army, I commanded Jewish soldiers and gave them orders. Where else can you find that? This is the freedom of Christians in Israel.

“Our brothers and sisters on the other side are forced to keep silent out of fear because they live under the Iranian occupation of Lebanon through Hezbollah, and they are not allowed to talk to their Maronite brothers in Israel because they will be accused of being ‘traitors’ or ‘spies.’ Even those who want contact with us do so through a third person living somewhere else. They live there oppressed, without freedoms. Only this week, they beat up a Christian journalist for speaking out against Hezbollah, and they even threatened the Maronite Patriarch who visited Israel in 2017.

“The oppression of Maronites in Lebanon, as well as the suffocating economic situation led by Iran and Hezbollah, are nothing short of a deliberate policy. Christian youth are migrating more and more from Lebanon, and this is the policy led by the extreme Islamists, aiming to quietly expel the Christian indigenous population from the area – just like the Ottomans did over one hundred years ago.

“On a more optimistic note, Israel can – and should continue to be – an example of coexistence between Jews and Arabs in front of the whole world. Despite all the mistakes that were made, this is a democratic country. As the Aramean minority in Israel, we have the capacity to help correct those mistakes and become a role model for all nations. This is what we will strive to do together, and I believe that we will be able to do it in a good way, and show all the war-mongering actors around us that peace and coexistence – not war – is the answer.”





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