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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Netanyahu: Israel will air proof that Hamas kidnapped teens

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel has “unequivocal proof” that Hamas is responsible for the kidnapping of three Israeli teens more than a week ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu, speaking Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, said Israel would share the proof and information with several countries and soon will make it public.

Airing the information, the Israeli leader said, will put remarks by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Saudi Arabia “to the test in practice.” Abbas called for the return of the teens and said he was making an effort to locate them.

“His remarks will be tested not only by actions to return the boys home but by his willingness to dissolve the unity government with Hamas, which abducted the youths and calls for the destruction of Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend that Israel holds information about the kidnapping that points to Hamas. Ban said through a spokesman earlier in the week that there was no “concrete evidence” that the youths were kidnapped.

The prime minister met Friday with the parents of the teens, who were abducted from a junction in Gush Etzion, located south of Jerusalem, on the evening of June 12. Netanyahu told the parents of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel that locating the youths takes precedence over everything.

“This is the principal goal of our operational and intelligence activity, and all of the appropriate units are working on this objective,” Netanyahu said. “We have reinforced units in the field and we are making great efforts to reach the boys.”

Over the weekend, Israeli troops and security forces made a widespread search and rescue operation in the western Hebron area.

Since the beginning of the operation to find the teens, Israeli forces have detained some 340 suspects, of which 250 are associated with the Hamas terrorist group, Israel said.

Four Palestinians have been killed in recent days, including a man near Nablus on Sunday morning who reportedly was mentally unstable. A 14-year-old boy was killed Friday near Hebron.

Netanyahu at the Sunday meeting called the deaths “necessary for self-defense.”

“We have no intention of deliberately harming anyone, but our forces are acting as necessary for self-defense and from time to time there are victims or casualties on the Palestinian side as a result of the self-defense actions of our soldiers,” he said.

Abbas over the weekend called on Netanyahu to condemn the killings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers in the wake of his condemnation of the kidnappings.

Israeli teen killed in border attack from Syria

JERUSALEM (JTA)—An Israeli teen was killed and at least two others were injured when their vehicle was hit with explosives fired from Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces responded with tank fire across the Golan Heights border at Syrian military positions.

It is believed that the attack near the Golan border fence was intentional, the IDF spokesman said in a tweet.

“The explosion is the most serious attack against Israel in recent months,” the spokesman said.

The boy, 13, reportedly came to work with his father, a civilian employee of Israel’s Defense Ministry who was strengthening the border fence. The teen was later identified as Mohammed Karaka.

Three other contractors were riding in the car, a Ministry of Defense vehicle.

It reportedly was the first Israeli death in the border area since the start of Syria’s civil war three years ago.

Syrian rebels control the Syrian side of the border, though it is not known who perpetrated the attack, Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed high-ranking IDF official.

The Israeli army is investigating the attack,  including the cause of the explosion, which is believed to be either the firing of a mortar or the activation of an explosive device.

In March, the Israeli army bombed Syrian military targets after four soldiers were injured in a roadside bomb attack. Earlier this month, the Iron Dome anti-missile system discharged after two mortars from Syria were fired at Israel.

In the past several months, several explosives from Syria have landed in northern Israel as a result of spillover from the civil war.

Peres says he’ll speak up for Pollard with Obama

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres said after meeting with Esther Pollard that on his U.S. trip, he will raise her request with American officials to free her imprisoned husband on humanitarian grounds.

Peres met Sunday with Esther Pollard and the heads of the Knesset Caucus to free Jonathan Pollard—lawmakers Nachman Shai and Ayelet Shaked—ahead of his trip this week to meet with President Obama and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“It is a national responsibility to work to free Pollard; I will speak to the president of the United States on behalf of the people of Israel,” Peres said. “I intend to do this during my meetings in Congress and at the White House.”

Esther Pollard said she was grateful to Peres for receiving the group so close to his departure to the United States.

“Jonathan’s health has deteriorated and his situation is serious,” she said at the meeting, according to the Israeli President’s Office. “I hope that now, after 30 years, your request for his release will be heard.”

Pollard is in the 29th year of a life sentence in a U.S. federal prison for spying for Israel while working as a civilian Navy intelligence analyst.

Netanyahu, speaking to Jewish journalists, slams Presbyterian divestment

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) vote to divest from three companies that do business with Israeli West Bank security forces.

Netanyahu, speaking Sunday to Jewish journalists from around the world at the inaugural Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem, said the vote late Friday to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard was misguided because Israel protects civil rights in a region with rising tides of Islamist extremism.

“The only place where you have freedom, tolerance, protection of minorities, protection of gays, of Christians and all other faiths is Israel,” he said.

Netanyahu suggested that American Presbyterian leaders “take a plane, come here and let’s arrange a bus tour in the region. Let them go to Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq.”

The prime minister told the more than 100 Jewish journalists gathered for the five-day summit that he sees three threats facing the Jewish people worldwide—heightened anti-Semitism in Europe, weakened Jewish identity in the United States and the rise of radical Islamist forces in the Middle East.

He lamented the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, as well as the death of a 13-year-old Israeli killed by an explosive Sunday in the Golan Heights.

“We as a people, our heart is broken about the kidnapping of every youth and the murder of every youth,” he said.

Netanyahu also repeated his call for the world to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons capability. He connected Iran’s Islamic government to conflicts between Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq and Syria.

“It is the height of folly to allow one of the Islamist camps to have nuclear weapons,” he said. “It will change history.”

Netanyahu reiterated many of the same points during a Sunday morning interview from Jerusalem on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Speaking before Netanyahu at the summit, outgoing President Shimon Peres praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ condemnation of the teens’ kidnapping and said Abbas is a good peace partner for Israel.

Peres encouraged Israel to restart peace talks, which Israel suspended in April after Abbas signed a reconciliation pact with Hamas, the terrorist group that governs Gaza.

“I think he is the best partner Israel ever had, and has now,” Peres said of Abbas. “I know him for 20 years. I think he’s a man of his word. I think he’s a man of courage.”

Netanyahu said earlier Sunday that Israel has clear evidence that Hamas participated in the kidnapping.

The Jewish Media Summit, which was organized by Israel’s Government Press Office, is set to occur every two years. More than 25 countries are represented at the event, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones in Jerusalem for son’s bar mitzvah

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones celebrated the bar mitzvah of their son in Jerusalem.

The Hollywood power couple arrived in Israel on Thursday for the weekend bar mitzvah of Dylan Michael Douglas, Ynet reported.

The family stayed in the presidential suite of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

They toured Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount tunnels, according to the Forward, which noted that Zeta-Jones has considered converting to Judaism.

Palestinian infiltrator with grenade caught near Israeli community

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Palestinian who infiltrated Israel from the Gaza Strip was caught with a hand grenade outside a southern Israeli community.

The Palestinian reportedly crossed the border fence near southern Gaza early Sunday morning and walked nearly five miles before he was caught by a community guard near Moshav Yated in the northwestern Negev. He was transferred to Israeli army security forces for questioning.

It reportedly was the first time in more than a year that a Palestinian has crossed illegally into Israel from Gaza.

The infiltration came shortly after three rockets fired from Gaza on southern Israel Saturday night exploded in open areas. A rocket fired on Saturday morning hit and damaged a road near Ashkelon.

More than 20 rockets have been fired at southern Israel from Gaza in less than two weeks.

Jews leaving France, Ukraine generate 50% increase in aliyah

(JTA)—Jewish immigration to Israel during the first quarter of 2014 increased by 50 percent over the corresponding period last year, mainly due to arrivals from France and Ukraine.

In total, immigration to Israel under its Law of Return for Jews and their descendants during the first four months of 2014 increased by 50 percent over the first quarter of 2013, from 4,073 to 6,101, according to data compiled by the Jewish Agency for Israel ahead of its Board Of Governors meeting, which was scheduled to begin Sunday in Jerusalem.

The figures do not cover immigration from Ethiopia, which ended last year with the arrival of the last of the Falash Mura.

Nearly all of the increase, or 93 percent of the difference, comes from Western Europe and Ukraine.

Of the 2,652 new immigrants who immigrated to Israel, or made aliyah, from Western Europe in the first quarter of 2014, more than 80 percent were from France, where Jewish community leaders have warned of growing anti-Semitism.

The corresponding period last year brought to Israel only 789 new immigrants from that part of the world, of whom 58 percent were French.

In Ukraine, where the government was toppled this year in a revolution that sparked an armed territorial dispute with Russia and Russian-backed separatists, the Jewish Agency was responsible for bringing to Israel a total of 1,107 Jews during the months January-April this year, compared to only 592 new immigrants during those months last year.

Immigration from other parts of the former Soviet Union increased by 10 percent over the first quarter of 2014, bringing a total of 1,642 new immigrants.

Immigration from North America during the first quarter of 2014 increased to 621, an 18 percent rise over the 525 who came in 2013 from January to April.

Iranian court sentences man accused of spying for Israel

(JTA)—An Iranian court sentenced a man to five years in prison on charges of spying for Israel.

The man, whose name was not released, was arrested last August and charged with giving information to the person responsible for security at the Israeli Embassy in Thailand, Israel’s Army Radio reported based on Iranian media.

He allegedly gave his Israeli handler information about the Iranian economy and copper mines in Kerman Province, the Israeli daily Maariv reported last year. The mines contain the world’s second-largest deposit of copper ore, constituting 5 percent of the world’s total.

According to the indictment, the man contacted the Israeli Embassy with the intention to spy for Israel while on his second visit to Thailand.

Another man was sentenced to 10 years for spying for Britain. He was accused of exchanging information with four British intelligence operatives, according to a report by The Associated Press. The defendants were not named. Both men are believed to be Iranians, AP reported. It  was not known if the suspects had defense lawyers.

20 world mayors condemn Israeli youths’ abduction

(JTA)—Twenty mayors from around the world condemned the suspected kidnapping of three Israeli youths in the West Bank.

The condemnations by the mayors of Berlin, Frankfurt, Buenos Aires, Sarajevo, Marseilles, Nice and Entebbe, among other cities, came in a joint statement to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 18 during a conference of mayors in Jerusalem.

“We were all saddened and deeply disappointed to learn of the boys’ abduction,” wrote the 20 mayors in Israel to attend the 29th Israel International Mayors Conference in Jerusalem. “Kidnapping, as well as taking hostages, is a violation of international law.”

Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shahar and Naftali Frenkel were last seen on June 12 in the West Bank. Netanyahu has said they were abducted by the Hamas terrorist group.

“Israeli suffering has to be understood,” the mayor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri, told a reporter at the conference. “From afar it is easy to give advice, but you have to be in Israel to really understand the situation.”

Macri, who himself spent 14 days in captivity during a kidnapping for ransom in 1991, added that abduction “is the most perverse situation you can find yourself in. I do not know if it is worse for the victim or the family.”

Macri was invited to the conference by Claudio Epelman, the Latin-American representative of the World Jewish Congress.

French Jews elect new chief rabbi

(JTA)—The Jewish community of France elected Rabbi Haim Korsia, the French army’s Jewish chaplain, as its new chief rabbi.

Korsia, 51, defeated Rabbi Olivier Kaufmann, an interim chief rabbi, in a 131-97 vote on Sunday to win the seven-year term, the French news agency AFP reported.

Kaufmann, the head of a French rabbinical school, was one of two rabbis who filled in for Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim following his resignation in April. Bernheim admitted that he had plagiarized in two books and an essay as well as claimed unearned academic titles.

The vote by a committee of the Consistoire—the French Jewish institution responsible for providing religious services—comes amid a spate of anti-Semitic attacks against French Jews.

Demonstrations before Argentina-Iran World Cup match remember AMIA victims

(JTA)—Latin American Jews held several demonstrations in Brazil prior to the Argentina-Iran World Cup match in memory of the victims of the 1994 Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires.

One of the three demonstrations held Saturday was in front of Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, where Argentina defeated Iran, 1-0. The others were held at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro and at the Museum of Art in Sao Paulo.

Argentine justice officials suspect Iran of being responsible for the AMIA center attack, which killed 85 and injured hundreds.

The demonstrations included a moment of silence and a reading of victims’ names. Signs and banners read “20 years without justice” and “A red card for lack of justice.”

“We organized the activities to remember that on July 18 there will be 20 years without justice,” Roberta Lavelberg, a Jewish activist from Sao Paulo, told JTA.

The World Jewish Congress failed in its attempt to convince FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, to hold one minute of silence in the stadium before the match.

Facebook featured a “One minute for AMIA” initiative by Brazilian youth to hold the moment of silence.

Fabio Kornblau, a former member of the AMIA board in charge of its youth department, said a Brazilian friend prepared a T-shirt for him with the saying; Kornblau took a photo with Iranian soccer fans while wearing the shirt.

“I traveled from Argentina to Brazil to see only one match: the match against Iran,” he said.


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