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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Report: Israeli agents backing Kenyan troops in bid to end Nairobi mall siege

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Kenyan troops reportedly backed by Israeli agents launched an assault to end the siege by Somali militants at a Nairobi shopping mall.

A Kenyan security source confirmed that Israelis “are rescuing the hostages and the injured” at the upscale Westgate mall, the French news agency AFP reported. The Israeli Foreign Ministry refused to confirm or deny its agents were involved in the operation, which took place shortly after nightfall on Sunday.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta had said he received “numerous offers of assistance from friendly countries” but that for now it remained a Kenyan operation.

Citing an unidentified Israel security source, Reuters had reported earlier Sunday that Israeli advisers were helping with negotiation strategy but were not involved in “any imminent storming operation.”

The death toll in the attack was at 68, with police warning that it could rise “much higher,” AFP reported. Some 200 people have been injured in the attack, which began Saturday.

Militants from al Shabab, a Somalia-based terror group linked to al-Qaida, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The five-story shopping center features several Israeli-owned outlets, according to wire services. Among them is the ArtCaffe—the attack by eight gunmen took place near the coffee shop and bakery.

One Israeli was injured and three others escaped harm, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A ministry spokeswoman said Israelis had not been specifically targeted.

“This time, the story is not about Israel,” she told The New York Times.

The spokeswoman told the Times that the ArtCaffe, which is located on the ground floor, is popular with foreigners.

Four Americans were injured in the bombing, according to the U.S. State Department.

Al Shabab said the attack was revenge for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia that began nearly two years ago, according to the Times.

Yariv Keidar, an employee of the Israeli-owned Amiran company based in Nairobi, told the Ynet news website that he and his Israeli co-worker hid his passport and work papers identifying him as Israeli trying to avoid kidnap or worse by the terrorists.

Islamist terrorists attacked an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya in 2002; three Israelis were among the 13 casualties. Four years earlier, an al-Qaida attack killed more than 200 people and destroyed the Nairobi-based American embassy.

Lauder raps Polish Forbes over Jewish property allegations

(JTA)—The World Jewish Congress slammed a Polish magazine report that alleged corrupt practices in the restitution and management of Jewish property in Poland.

In a statement issued Sept. 18, WJC President Ronald Lauder called the report in the Polish edition of Forbes magazine “littered with factual errors” and “sensationalist,” and its allegations “unfounded and slanderous.”

The Forbes report, published several weeks ago, comprised several articles that targeted the leaders of Poland’s organized Jewish community along with  the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, or FODZ, the WJC and the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

One of the articles described Piotr Kadlcik, the president of Poland’s Union of Jewish Communities, as one who “likes a drink or many and can often be seen on the street trying to find his bearings.” It called Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, “the perfect rabbi to foster corruption.”

Another article accused Monika Krawczyk, CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, as “charged by her employers, the largest Jewish world organizations, with selling and liquidating as fast as feasible the half of the restituted communal property she controls on behalf of those organizations, and with transferring the moneys to their bank accounts for further waste … to hell with Polish Jews!”

Lauder said he had to respond to the articles’ allegations in his position as chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, or WJRO, as well as president of the WJC.

“To make it very clear,” he said in his statement, “neither the WJC nor the WJRO, of which the WJC is a founding member, have ever sought or received money coming from the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, as the articles suggest.”

The reports, Lauder continued, “are littered with factual errors, and it is lamentable that the authors did not bother to check the facts. This makes me, and many others, wonder if they approached the whole issue with the motive to portray the entire [Jewish] community in a bad light and perhaps to put a stop of the ongoing restitution process of Jewish communal property.”

In a related statement, the WJRO said it had “full confidence in the work of FODZ and its CEO Monika Krawczyk.” It said FODZ operates “in an open and transparent way and files annual audit reports with the Polish Ministry of Administration.”

The FODZ, according to the statement, “has only funded projects inside Poland and neither WJRO nor WJRO member organizations have ever received any allocations for projects or activities from FODZ.”

French Muslim leader resigns over invite to pro-Israel Jewish lawmaker

(JTA)—The co-founder of a French-Muslim advocacy group was forced to resign for inviting a Jewish, pro-Israel lawmaker to the group’s inaugural event.

Farid Belkacemi stepped down as vice president of the League for the Judicial Defense of Muslims over the presence at the Sept. 16 event of Meyer Habib, a member of the National Assembly in France and former vice president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jewish communities, according to a statement by the Muslim group.

Habib’s attendance at the Paris event was “incompatible with the League’s values and provoked heated emotions because of Habib’s capacity as advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his functions at the heart of Likud,” the Sept. 19 statement read.

CRIF released a statement saying that Habib was not representing the Jewish organization but attended the event in his capacity at the National Assembly.

The CRIF statement noted that among the founding members of the new Muslim body was Roland Dumas, a former French foreign minister from the Socialist Party who said in July during a television interview that Israel was behind the British government’s readiness to strike in Syria.

Dumas also has accused “Israelis” of controlling French intelligence services, the statement said.

French town unveils hidden Jewish treasures

(JTA)—A town near Strasbourg unveiled dozens of Judaica items hidden before the Holocaust and discovered during the renovation of a former synagogue.

The recently discovered items were presented to the public on Sunday. They had been hidden at what is now the new cultural center of Dambach-la-Ville, a town of 2,000 in eastern France, the L’Alsace daily reported Saturday.

Members of the town’s former Jewish community hid the cache of thousands of items—including old Torah scrolls and texts from the 16th century—in the space of a double ceiling designed especially for concealment, according to the report.

Among the findings are 250 mapot, or wimpels—strips of cloth that were wrapped around Jewish babies during their circumcision and then decorated with their names and deposited for safekeeping. The oldest mappah found at Dambach was dated to 1614. The oldest item found at the former synagogue was a ruined Torah scroll dating back to 1592.

Jean-Camille Bloch, the vice president of the SHIAL historical society on Jewish presence in the Alsace-Lorraine region, was quoted by L’Alsace as saying some of the items recovered are worth hundreds of dollars.

The French government evacuated tens of thousands of Frenchmen from the Alsace-Lorraine region, including 14,000 Jews, when World War II broke out in 1939, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

Due to the evacuation, only about 10 percent of the Alsace-Lorraine Jewish population of 20,000 perished in the Holocaust.

Religious freedom motion passes in Ontario

TORONTO (JTA)—A motion introduced by a Jewish legislator in Ontario to reaffirm the Canadian province’s commitment to religious freedom passed unanimously.

Monte Kwinter, a veteran Liberal member of the Provincial Parliament, introduced the motion as a direct response to a Quebec proposal that would ban religious symbols in the workplace. The Ontario motion passed on Sept. 19.

Speaking of potential immigrants to Canada, Kwinter told the Globe and Mail, “When they hear that one province is doing something, they assume that Canada is doing it and it creates a negative image. People are saying is that going to happen in Ontario? And all we’re trying to do is reassure them that we would not support anything that would in any way put our ethnic communities, our cultural communities at risk in the way they’re being put at risk in Quebec.”

The Quebec proposal includes a ban on religious headwear—including yarmulkes, hijabs and turbans, as well as visible crucifixes—by public and quasi-public employees. Critics say the plan is xenophobic and racist.

The Ontario motion said the province “should oppose any legislation that would restrict or prohibit people’s freedom of expression and religion in public places and affirms that Ontario greatly values our diverse population and the social, cultural and economic contributions they make to help our society thrive.”

Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak said governments have no right to dictate to people how and when they can express their religious beliefs.”

Man arrested for alleged death threat against Toulouse Jewish school

(JTA)—A man who claimed to be the cousin of Mohammed Merah was arrested for allegedly making a threatening phone call to the French Jewish school where Merah killed four.

French police arrested a 20-year-old French national of Moroccan origin, Reuters reported, over the weekend near Vesoul, a city in eastern France near Strasbourg. The man, who was not named, will be arraigned Monday.

According to SPCJ, the French Jewish community’s security service, the man called the Ohr Hatorah school in Toulouse on Sept. 16 and told a secretary, “I am Mohammed Merah’s cousin and I’m coming over tonight to kill you.”

Merah in March 2012 gunned down a rabbi and three children at the  school, which changed its name from Ozar Hatorah after the attack.

According to Reuters, the suspect was living with his mother. The report did not say whether he is in fact related to Merah, who was killed in a standoff with police days three days the shooting.

SPCJ said police have arrested several callers who threatened violence against the school following the shooting.

French police believe Merah planned the shooting with his older brother, Abelkader, who is in prison awaiting trial.

Israeli soldier killed by Palestinian sniper in Hebron

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Israeli soldier was shot at a West Bank checkpoint in Hebron by a Palestinian sniper and died of his wounds, the Israeli army said.

The shots were fired Sunday near the Cave of the Patriarchs.  Hebron remained under a curfew.

The army evacuated some 11,000 visitors from Hebron who were participating in tours and programming for the intermediate days of Sukkot. Worshipers were ejected from the Cave of the Patriarchs following the shooting.

The soldier was hit in the neck by a bullet and rushed to a Jerusalem hospital, where he died. His name was not made public pending notification of his family.

Israeli troops and Palestinian residents of Hebron clashed following the shooting, according to the Times of Israel. Haaretz reported that the clashes began before the shooting.

“This lethal attack illustrates the complex security challenges the IDF faces on a daily basis in Judea & Samaria,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces. “The IDF will employ the necessary means, operational and intelligence, to apprehend those responsible for this deathly attack.”

Israeli soldier killed by Palestinian former co-worker

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Israeli soldier who was visiting the West Bank with a former Palestinian co-worker was murdered by the Palestinian man.

The body of Tomer Hazan, 20, a sergeant in the Israeli Air Force, was discovered on Saturday after his family alerted officials that he had not been in touch with them since Friday morning.

Nadal Amar, 42, was arrested Saturday by Israeli security services and confessed to killing Hazan near Amar’s hometown of Kalkilya and hiding the body in a well.

Amar told Israel Security Agency agents that he planned to exchange Hazan’s body for the release of his brother, Nur Al Din Amar, a Fatah operative imprisoned since 2003 for his involvement in several terror attacks, according to the Israel Defense Forces spokesman’s office.

“The criminal incident proves once again that the fight against terrorism is constant,” Army Radio quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying.

Hazan and Amar, who had worked together at Tzachi Meats in central Israel, reportedly got into a taxi together and traveled to an Israeli community near Kalkilya.

Amar had been working in Israel illegally, according to the IDF, and had been turned down for a request to enter Israel under the family reunification law.

The owner of Tzachi Meats told the Israeli media that he believed Amar had legal work documents. He closed his Bat Yam restaurant for a week in solidarity with the family, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, condemned the “shocking murder” and called for calm on both sides “at this critical moment in the political process.”

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, wrote on his Facebook page that the murder “is a terrible reminder that every day Israel is dealing with murderous, animal-like terrorists. We should not abandon the security of Israel to anyone except ourselves.”


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