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Israelis Mark Jewish New Year Amid Regional Tensions

Israelis are observing the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days on the Hebrew calendar. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the holiday season takes place against the background of growing tension on Israel's northern and southern borders.

Israelis gathered in synagogues around the country to welcome Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It is the beginning of the High Holy Days, culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in 10 days time. That is followed by the weeklong Feast of Tabernacles, an autumn harvest feast where observant Jews live in booths called Succot.

But the holiday season has been overshadowed by escalating tensions between Israel and its northern neighbor, Syria. A week ago, Syria said its air defenses fired on Israeli warplanes that violated its airspace. And now, media reports are emerging with details of the incident.

The reports say Israel launched an air strike deep inside Syria, targeting weapons supplies from Iran or a missile base. The New York Times said Israeli jets recently spotted possible nuclear facilities in Syria. Israeli officials have not commented, but the reports have raised fresh fears of another Mideast war.

In addition, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been launching daily rocket attacks on Israeli border towns, prompting threats of retaliation from Israel.

The High Holy Days are a time of reflection, so recent events are weighing on the minds of Israelis. Barry Mevorach immigrated to Israel from New York a few years ago. He spoke to VOA about his concerns.

"I don't think we're going to see peace," he said. "I think we're going to see an increase of violence on the northern border, an increase in the Gaza area."

And tensions on two fronts make many Israelis nervous.

"There's such a division in the north area and in the Gaza area that the dilution of the military strength is something that we've got to be very concerned about in Israel at this time," he noted.

Despite these concerns, Israelis dip apples into honey on Rosh Hashanah, a tradition symbolizing hope for a sweet new year.