Israel moves to deescalate Syria border tensions, after weekend attack kills Israeli boy and triggers IAF airstrikes


The Times of Israel reported Monday that Israel is actively seeking to dampen escalatory tensions along the Israel-Syria border, quoting a senior military official who emphasized that "Israel had no interest in military escalation along its northern borders, as the IDF was focused on an operation in the West Bank aimed at finding three kidnapped Israeli youths and weakening Hamas, which Israel holds responsible for the abduction." The outlet also conveyed remarks from Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who emphasized that the Bashar al-Assad regime was responsible for preventing attacks launched from "the area under its control." A 15-year-old Israeli boy, Mohammed Karkara, had been killed over the weekend in a cross-border attack that saw fighters from the Syrian side launching an anti-tank rocket at a car delivering water to civilian contractors along the border. At least three others, including the child's father, were injured in the attack. Palestinian media described the murder under the headline "Israeli settler killed," while Hezbollah-linked media used "One Settler Killed on Israeli-Occupied Golan Heights." The Israeli Air Force responded with overnight raids on regime facilities and assets, deploying fixed wing aircraft and Tamuz missiles against Damascus's command and control infrastructure. There has been some debate among analysts about whether the attack was launched by forces aligned with or against the Syrian regime. Jerusalem held Assad responsible under any scenario, with Ya'alon declaring that "We see the regime of Bashar Assad and the Syrian military as responsible for what occurs in the territory under their control, and we will respond aggressively and harshly against any provocation and violation of our sovereignty." On a more granular level, there are active discussions about increasingly open efforts - reported on by Israeli analysts and Lebanese media outlets - to install military assets in the Golan Heights.


As the search continued through the weekend for three Israeli teenagers kidnapped earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that forthcoming evidence – what he called “unequivocal proof” – would implicate Hamas in the abductions. The Iran-backed organization has for days been thought to have been behind the kidnappings – top officials from the rival Fatah faction last week acknowledged as much – despite having last month inked a unity agreement with Fatah, which among other things obligated the group to cease carrying out terror attacks. The unity deal had at the time been defended by Fatah leaders and by swaths of the international community as a necessary prerequisite to establishing a peace deal with Israel, and had been blasted by Israeli leaders for among other things emboldening Hamas and providing it with a lifeline. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki last week brushed off questions from reporters on the topic, referring press to a statement released that weekend, which noted that Washington was “still seeking details on the parties responsible for this despicable terrorist act, although many indications point to Hamas.”


Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad Monday to meet with Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki, with the intent of urging the Iraqi leader to accelerate the formation of an inclusive, unified government amid reports of further Sunni extremist gains and unrest across the country. The visit comes following reports of what Reuters described as “heated” meetings held last week between Maliki and U.S. diplomats. The Associated Press noted that the Kerry-Maliki meeting was “not expected to be friendly” as “Iraqi officials have long listened to — but ultimately ignored — U.S. advice.” The Iran-backed Maliki has been widely criticized for having prioritized Shiite expansionism over building pluralistic institutions that would have incorporated minority Sunnis. The meeting comes as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) continued its advance through Iraq over the weekend, taking control of strategic border crossings with Jordan and Syria.  Maliki has been broadly blamed for alienating Iraqi Sunnis and creating an environment favorable to the current ISIS-led insurgency. The Boston Globe’s editorial staff on Sunday argued that Maliki’s close ties to Iran have been instrumental in fostering the sectarian divide plaguing Iraq and that the country’s Sunni population “consider[s] him to be a puppet of Iran.”


Israeli researchers have found a new tiny molecule that could spell great news for people suffering from depression. According to the World Health Organization, such mood disorders as depression affect some 10% of the world’s population and are associated with a heavy burden of disease. Existing anti-depressants are not good enough: Some 60-70 percent of patients get no relief from them. For the other 30-40%, that relief is often incomplete, and they must take the drugs for a long period before feeling any effects. Now, the Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Alon Chen and his then PhD student Dr. Orna Issler have discovered a tiny molecule that has the potential to act on nerve cells to produce serotonin hormone, also known as the happy chemical. Chen and his colleagues researched the role of microRNA molecules (small, non-coding RNA molecules that regulate various cellular activities) in the nerve cells that produce serotonin. They succeeded in identifying, for the first time, the unique “fingerprints” of a microRNA molecule that acts on the serotonin-producing nerve cells. Combining bioinformatics methods with experiments, the researchers found a connection between this particular microRNA, (miR135), and two proteins that play a key role in serotonin production and the regulation of its activities. (via Israel21c)

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