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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


AIPAC to lobby lawmakers for limited Syria strike

(JTA)—AIPAC officials reportedly said the pro-Israel group will lobby U.S. lawmakers to authorize a retaliatory strike on Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons.

The unnamed officials told several media outlets over the weekend that the group would send activists to Capitol Hill this week to garner support for a resolution to launch a limited military strike in retaliation for the Aug. 21 attack by the Syrian government.

Investigations have provided mounting evidence that President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in an attack in near Damascus that killed some 1,400 people, including approximately 400 children.

President Obama is working to gain support from Congress to launch the limited strike in response to the attack.

Meanwhile, Assad said in an interview that he did not use chemical weapons against his citizens, CBS reported Sunday.

“There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people,” Assad said in the interview conducted in Damascus, according to the network’s news program “Face the Nation” announcing the interview a day before its airing.

The CBS report came hours after the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported that the Syrian army may have launched the attack without Assad’s approval.

CNN on Saturday night began airing videos shown by the Obama administration to key members of the Senate in which victims are seen dying in the attack’s aftermath.

The announcement by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee—among many Jewish groups backing Obama’s call to strike Syria militarily—comes as Israel continues to keep a low public profile regarding Syria.

Israel, however, continues to distribute gas masks to its citizens over concerns of retaliatory chemical weapons attacks by Syria on Israel.

Also Sunday, Reuters quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying that the United States would notify Israel several hours before it launched an attack on Syria.

The news agency also reported that its television division filmed what it believed to be an Iron Dome anti-missile battery being positioned on the periphery of Jerusalem.

Pilgrims leave Uman amid reports of heavy damage to property

(JTA)—Thousands of Jewish pilgrims are leaving Ukraine, where their weeklong stay in Uman resulted in a fire, power shortages, a sewage flood and several arrests.

In one incident, three Israeli police officers who were sent to Uman to help police the estimated 26,000 Jewish pilgrims who congregate every year ahead of the Jewish New Year near the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman, founder of the Breslov hasidic movement, reportedly scuffled last week with locals while off duty.

According to Israel’s Channel 10, one of the officers sustained minor injuries. The officers were sent back to answer for the incident.

Pilgrims from Israel started a fire inside their rented apartment after they had an indoor barbecue, according to Alexander Gorobech, a firefighter who was stationed in Uman as part of a special deployment.  Gorobech told the Ukrainian ICTV television station that the men who lit the fire were handed over to the Israeli police detachment.

An apartment block on Pushkin Street lost power for nearly one day because of an overload in consumption by Jewish pilgrims, according to Segodnya.ua.

On the same street in a different apartment building block, pilgrims caused the sewage system to overflow and flood the municipality’s social services center, according to Ukrainian media, including the news site Svodka.net. The visitors flushed diapers and hygienic pads down the toilet, the reports said, resulting in a flood that caused severe damage to the municipal offices located in the basement of the building.

A Jewish visitor was arrested after being spotted smoking marijuana by Ukrainian police, according to a statement by the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Several of his friends confronted officers, but the encounter did not turn violent, according to the news website Unian.net.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 4, Ukrainian police divers rescued a Jewish pilgrim who fell into a flooded quarry, according to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. The drowning man was unconscious when divers pulled him from the water but regained consciousness following an emergency resuscitation procedure.

According to Segodniya.ua, Jewish pilgrimage this year broke the record set in 2011, when Uman saw 26,000 arrivals, but the Russian Jewish Congress said in a statement that attendance was lower than in previous years.

At Syria vigil, Pope Francis calls for peace in Mideast

ROME (JTA)—Tens of thousands of people converged on St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City for a peace vigil for Syria called by Pope Francis.

The pope called for peace and reconciliation throughout the Middle East.

“This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: Violence and war are never the way to peace!” Francis, who had spent the day fasting, told the crowd on Saturday night.

“May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity,” he added. “Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation—these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace.”

The Vatican estimated that more than 100,000 people took part in the culmination of a “day of fasting and prayer for peace” convoked by Francis on Sept. 1.

The Vatican stressed the gathering was religious, not political, but observers said it resembled a political rally at times, with participants waving Syrian flags and wearing T-shirts and holding placards with slogans such as “hands off Syria,” “Don’t attack Syria” and “Obama you have no dream, you have a nightmare.”

In his homily, Francis cited the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel.

“We bring about the rebirth of Cain in every act of violence and in every war,” he said. “And even today we continue this history of conflict between brothers, even today we raise our hands against our brother.”

The Vatican reported that Pope Francis also tweeted the message “Pray for peace” to his 9 million Twitter followers.

French city closes street to traffic through Yom Kippur

(JTA)—The French city of Metz closed a street to vehicular traffic for the High Holidays season, provoking angry reactions from some Muslims.

Rabbin Bloch Street was closed on the afternoon of Sept. 6, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, and will reopen at the close of Yom Kippur, the night of Sept. 14, according to the website of TCRM, the public transport company of the Messine region.

The website cited “the Jewish holidays” for closing the street, which has several Jewish institutions located there.

Metz, which is some 40 miles northwest of Strasbourg in eastern France, had a Jewish population of approximately 4,000 in 1987, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica. The Jewish community established itself in the city in the 16th century.

Some Muslims said the street closure reflected a double standard in the attitude of French authorities to Jewish and Muslim sensibilities in applying separation of church and state.

One of France’s leading Muslim news sites, islametinfo.fr, published an editorial on Friday saying that although “it is normal for residents to respect the wishes of others in special moments,” the closure at Metz “begs comparison” with a ban imposed in 2011 on street prayers by Muslims in Paris.

The street prayers at Barbes were the result of overcrowded conditions at the local mosque.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the ultranationalist Front National, compared the prayers to “the occupation”—a reference to the Nazi occupation of France.

Dutch firm quits eastern Jerusalem project

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (JTA)—A major Dutch engineering company pulled out of a project in eastern Jerusalem.

The pullout, announced last Friday by Royal HaskoningDHV, came after the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly advised the firm to terminate its involvement in the planning of a sewage treatment plant because the project was based beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Royal HaskoningDHV is one of Holland’s largest infrastructure firms.

“In the course of the project, and after due consultation with various stakeholders, the company came to understand that future involvement in the project could be in violation of international law,” the company’s statement read. “This has led to the decision of Royal HaskoningDHV to terminate its involvement in the project.”

Han ten Broeke of Holland’s ruling party, VVD, last week asked Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans of the Labor party to explain why the ministry was “discouraging companies from participating in projects that provide clean water to Palestinians,” according to ANP, the Dutch news agency.

Timmermans replied that his office did not pressure the company, according to the report.

Italy delays sending 15th-century Botticelli to Israel over Syria threat

ROME (JTA)—Concerned by war clouds over Syria, Italy is holding off on loaning a 15th-century masterpiece by Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli to Israel.

But citing the importance of cultural relations between the two countries, the Italian Culture Ministry said it would soon decide on a work of similar “high cultural and artistic” significance to send to Israel in its place.

Italy was to have shipped Botticelli’s “Annunciation of San Martino alla Scala” to Israel this week, where the work was to have been displayed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for several months starting Sept. 17 as part of celebrations for Israel’s 65th birthday.

A Culture Ministry communique released last week, on Rosh Hashanah, said that because of the situation in the region, the painting would not be sent this week as had been arranged.

The loan was organized by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where the painting is conserved, and the Italy-Israel Foundation for Culture and the Arts.

Italian Culture Minister Massimo Bray was scheduled to travel to Jerusalem for the inauguration of the exhibition, which also was to have been attended by Israeli Culture Minister Limor Livnat.

The “Annunciation” is a large fresco painted by Botticelli in 1481 on a wall at the hospital of San Martino alla Scala in Florence. It was removed from the wall in 1920 and transferred to the Uffizi, where it underwent restoration.

EU sending diplomats to Israel to talk about new settlement guidelines

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The European Union will send to Israel a diplomatic team to talk to Israeli officials about implementing the EU’s new settlement guidelines.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton made the announcement over the weekend after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday called on the European Union to postpone a planned ban on its financial assistance to Israeli organizations operating beyond the 1967 borders.

The European Commission in July announced new guidelines making Israeli entities and activities in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights ineligible for EU grants and prizes.

Kerry made the request at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, saying it would help facilitate the restarted peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

In response, Ashton said the guidelines were simply “putting down on paper what is currently the EU position.”

Ashton said she was sending the diplomatic team, to be headed by a senior EU envoy, to make sure the implementation of the guidelines was handled “very sensitively.” She added that the European Union wants to “continue to have a strong relationship with Israel.”

The EU also plans to introduce special labeling for products made in the settlements by the end of this year.

Ex-camp counselor at yeshiva-run camp withdrawing guilty plea in abuse case

(JTA)—former counselor at a summer camp run by a yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., wants to withdraw his guilty plea on charges of sexually abusing a male camper.

Yosef Kolko, 39, pleaded guilty in May, on the third day of his trial, to aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment while he was a counselor at a camp run by the Yeshiva Bais Hatorah School.

Kolko’s attorney filed a motion last week to withdraw his guilty plea, saying he had been pressured by his Orthodox Jewish community to enter the plea.

Kolko was to be sentenced this week in the case; the sentencing has been postponed due to the motion, according to the Asbury Park Press. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Kolko, who also was a teacher at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim in Lakewood, could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison, but state Superior Court Judge Francis Hodgson has said he would consider no more than 15 years, the Asbury Park Press reported at the time of Kolko’s plea.

Israel protests Palestinian leaks on peace talks content

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A negotiator for Israel in the relaunched peace talks with the Palestinians  protested what he said are Palestinian officials’ leaks to the media about the content of the talks.

Isaac Molho, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoy to the peace talks, in a call over the weekend to his U.S. counterpart, Martin Indyk, complained about numerous leaks by named and unnamed Palestinian officials.

Molho said the leaks “violated all the agreements” agreed to by the two sides with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed Israeli official.

At the beginning of the talks in Washington in July, both sides agreed to maintain silence on the time, place and content of the meetings, reportedly at Kerry’s request.

Last week on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, in an interview with the Voice of Palestine radio, Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, said there has been “no progress” in the talks and that it will require pressure from the United States in order to advance toward peace.

During interviews given over Israel’s long holiday weekend for the Jewish New Year, several other named and unnamed Palestinian officials similarly declared that the peace talks were stagnating.

Arab League ministers backing U.S. peace efforts

(JTA)—Representatives of the Arab League’s Peace Initiative Committee expressed support for American efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday in Paris updated a ministerial delegation of the committee on the ongoing negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

Kerry reiterated the commitment of the United States to pursuing intensive negotiations to end the conflict through a permanent status agreement, the State Department said Sunday.

“The delegation expressed its full support for the Secretary of State’s efforts and for the agreed upon nine-month timeline,” according to a statement released by the State Department.

The ministers also expressed concern over Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank as well as “unilateral Israeli actions in Jerusalem that create a negative environment,” according to the State Department.

“The delegation hopes that the ongoing direct permanent status negotiations will lead to a resolution that achieves a just and lasting peace through resolving all permanent status issues as a major step towards comprehensive Middle East Peace which will contribute to regional security and stability,” the statement said.

The ministerial committee included representatives from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with the Arab League’s secretary-general.

Condemn Muslim riots on Temple Mount, Western Wall rabbi says

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The rabbi of the Western Wall called on the world to condemn riots by Muslims on the Temple Mount during Rosh Hashanah.

Palestinians threw rocks at police and at Jewish worshipers on Friday on the Temple Mount, the holiest site for Jews, following Muslim prayer services at the Al-Aksa Mosque there, as well as at sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Some 15 rioters were arrested.

“Their goal was to hurt the Jews who came to pray at the Western Wall on Rosh Hashanah,” Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said in a statement issued Saturday night.

“All violence should be condemned, but all the more so when it comes to the holiest place of the Jewish people. The world should condemn this act, and express contempt for this attempt to hurt worshipers on a holy day.”

Rabinowitz pointed out that during the recent Muslim holy month of Ramadan, police and Jewish officials facilitated the Muslim community’s need to worship at the holy site, even though it meant “difficulties for Jewish worshipers at shared holy sites” such as the Western Wall.

The arrests came two days after the arrests of at least seven Palestinians who threw stones at Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount in advance of Rosh Hashanah.


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