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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


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Salam Fayyad

Iran calls for Arab countries to unite against Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Iran called on the countries of the Middle East to unite against Israel in the face of an attack on Syria.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the countries of the region should stand together against the “assault,” the Reuters news agency reported, citing the Iranian Fars news agency.

Syrian state media accused Israel of the early Sunday morning attack on what it identified as the Jamraya military research center approximately 10 miles from the border with Lebanon.

Reuters cited an unnamed “Western intelligence source” on Sunday who confirmed the Sunday morning attack and said that Israel targeted stores of long-range Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hezbollah. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in the attack, as well as an attack last Friday on a warehouse near the Damascus airport also said to be housing weapons from Iran intended for Hezbollah.

The commander of ground forces for the Iranian army, Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, offered to train the Syrian government’s army to fight Israel, Reuters reported, citing Fars.

“Syria has a powerful army, and with the structure and experience it has against the Zionist regime, it can definitely defend itself and there is no need for intervention by other countries,” he said, according to Fars. “But if they need training, we can help them.”

Scottish church says Jews have no scriptural claim to Holy Land

(JTA)—The Church of Scotland published a paper denying that “scripture” provides a basis for Jewish claims to Israel.

The paper, entitled “The Inheritance of Abraham,” rejects “claims that scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory.” The paper further states that “reconciliation can only be possible if the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the blockade of Gaza are ended.”

The report was published online last week by the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland ahead of the church’s general assembly on May 18. The report’s introduction describes it as the council’s “latest reflection on the ‘questions that need to be faced,’ as the political and humanitarian situation in the Holy Land continues to be a source of pain and concern for us all.”

While the 10-page report does not mention the upcoming meeting, its final chapter, entitled “Proposed Deliverance,” calls on the church to “urge the U.K. Government and the European Union to use pressure to stop further expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank.”

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities said last Friday that the paper is “an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for” and “reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism.”

“The arrogance of telling the Jewish people how to interpret Jewish texts and Jewish theology is breathtaking,” the Jewish council said.

The council further declared that the paper “closes the door on meaningful dialogue” and called on the church to withdraw it ahead of its forthcoming General Assembly.

China offers to broker Abbas-Netanyahu meeting

(JTA)—China offered to broker a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were both to be in Beijing this week on separate visits.

The United States is pressing the sides to revive peace talks and has asked the international community to facilitate such a meeting.

Abbas has made a settlement freeze a precondition for talks, a condition Netanyahu rejects.

The party-run People’s Daily noted that Netanyahu’s visit marked the first time an Israeli prime minister chose China as his first foreign post-election trip. Netanyahu was re-elected prime minister in elections in January.

Fayyad denies statements in New York Times unflattering to Abbas

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Outgoing Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is denying statements attributed to him by a New York Times columnist that are unflattering to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The statements in the article are just journalist Roger Cohen’s personal impressions, and certainly not the words of Fayyad, who did not make any statements or conduct interviews for the New York Times or any other newspaper or agency since his resignation,” Fayyad’s office said in a statement published Saturday by the Palestinian WAFA news agency.

Fayyad turned in his resignation on April 13; he has remained in the job in a caretaker role.

Cohen’s Op-Ed titled “Fayyad Steps Down, Not Out,” published on May 3, quoted Fayyad as saying that the Palestinians’ “story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on.”

Cohen also quoted Fayyad as saying: “This party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment.” Also, “It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”

WAFA reported that the Cohen Op-Ed has “caused an uproar among Palestinians.”

Cohen told the Times of Israel in an email that he had interviewed Fayyad and would not comment further.

Rally protests plan to close Jerusalem cineplex on Shabbat

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Jerusalem residents protested against a plan to close a new movie theater complex on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Some 500 Jerusalem residents and supporters protesting Saturday night at Safra Square in front of City Hall called for Cinema City to be open on Friday night and Saturday.

The complex, which includes restaurants and a 15-screen movie theater, is set to open this summer. It will close on weekends in keeping with an agreement between the Finance Ministry, the property developer and the Jerusalem municipality.

Google edition adopts ‘Palestine’

(JTA)—Google changed the title on the homepage of its Palestinian edition from “Palestinian Territories” to “Palestine.”

In a statement to the BBC last Friday, Google spokesman Nathan Tyler said the company was “following the lead” of several bodies, including the United Nations, in adopting the change across its products.

Israel considers any formal use of the word Palestine as pre-judging the outcome of currently stalled peace talks.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Yigal Palmor, told The Times of Israel last Friday that “Google is not a political or diplomatic entity, so they can call anything by any name, it has no diplomatic or political significance.”

Report: Israel rejects 1967 borders ‘precondition’

(JTA)—Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni reportedly refused to accept the 1967 border as the basis for a final Israeli-Palestinian border prior to negotiations.

Livni told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on May 2 that Israel would not agree to the 1967 borders as a precondition of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Maariv reported. Rather, she said, the border issue must be resolved through talks.

President Obama has called for the resumption of negotiations “on the basis” of the 1967 borders, a reference widely interpreted as allowing for an agreement in which Jewish settlement blocs become Israeli territory in exchange for other areas.

Earlier last week, the Arab League for the first time publicly cited the possibility of “comparable,” mutually agreed and “minor” land swaps between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Deri named Shas party chairman

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Aryeh Deri was appointed chairman of Shas by the Sephardic haredi Orthodox party’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The appointment May 2 comes seven months after a triumvirate of lawmakers was tapped to lead the party through the November 2012 national elections. Deri, along with Eli Yishai and Ariel Atias, have been leading the party.

Shas, which is part of the opposition, has 11 seats in the Knesset.

Deri, who was indicted in 1993 for accepting bribes, resigned as party chief 13 years ago after his conviction for bribery. He was sentenced in 2000 to three years in prison and barred from public service in the political arena for seven years. Yosef said at the time that the party’s leadership would be given to Yishai until Deri’s return.

Deri had threatened in October to launch his own party if he were not permitted to retake the Shas chairmanship.

Senegalese celebrate Israeli independence

DAKAR, Senegal (JTA)—A crowd of 1,000 people celebrated Israel’s 65th anniversary in the predominantly Muslim nation of Senegal.

“Israel very much values its warm ties with Senegal, which is an island of stability in an unstable region,” Israel’s ambassador to Senegal, Eli Ben-Toura, told the crowd of religious leaders, businessmen, artists and diplomats who gathered April 30 at Dakar’s Grand National Theater to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day.

Ben-Toura told JTA that Israel has trained hundreds of Senegalese farmers in advanced agricultural techniques over the years.

“Usually when African governments approach Israel it’s either about agriculture or defense systems,” he said. “But we want to go further and believe that cultural exchange is also a major element.”

The embassy arranged a modern dance performance by Ido Tadmor, the artistic director of the Israel Ballet, and 40 local dancers.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is installing two experts in agriculture in Senegal as well as a depot service for equipment, Ben-Toura said. Israeli researchers are also trying to eradicate snail fever, a parasitic disease, in the country’s north.

In December, the Senegalese government granted an oil exploration license to Elentilo, a mining company owned by the Israeli businessman Jacob Engel.

The Islamic insurgency that erupted last year in neighboring Mali has not affected Senegal’s more liberal and pro-Western society, Ben-Toura said, “but there is major concern and action on the part of Senegalese authorities to prevent radical Islam from trickling in.”


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