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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Syria says Israeli planes hit military sites near Damascus

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Syrian military claimed that Israeli planes attacked military sites near Damascus.

The attacks, also reported on Syrian television, took place on Sunday night, the military said, according to a report by the Syrian state news agency, SANA. Israeli planes are reported to have hit several military facilities near Damascus International Airport and in Dimas, located north of Damascus near the border with Lebanon.

Syrian state television reports said that there were no casualties.

“The Israeli enemy committed aggression against Syria by targeting two safe areas in Damascus province, in all of Dimas and near the Damascus International Airport,” the Syrian government said.

The Israel Defense Forces neither confirmed nor denied the reports on Sunday, according to Israeli media. The IDF does not comment on such accusations.

The Syrians said the attacks were further evidence that Israel was working with rebels against the Syrian government in the country’s more than three-year civil war.

The Jerusalem Post cited foreign reports that said the attack targeted a warehouse of advanced S-300 missiles that were being transported from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry sent letters to the United Nations secretary-general and to the head of the U.N. Security Council condemning Israel for the attacks, SANA reported.

Israel reportedly has struck targets in Syria several times during Syria’s civil war. The strikes, including at least two in 2013, were reported to be an effort to stop the transport of advanced weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria. Israel has not acknowledged or denied the strikes.

Suspects arrested in torching of joint Arab-Jewish school

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Several suspects were arrested in the suspected arson attack on a joint Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem.

The suspects were arrested a week ago, shortly after a fire was set in the classroom of the Max Rayne Hand In Hand Jerusalem School.

On Sunday, the Petach Tikvah Magistrate’s Court lifted a media gag order on the arrests.

A gag order remains in place on the exact number of suspects being held and details of the investigation.

A preliminary police investigation found that the blaze was set intentionally.

“Death to Arabs” and “There is no coexistence with cancer” were among the anti-Arab epithets spray-painted on the school walls.

The court on Sunday extended the remand of the suspects until Thursday, and allowed the police and Shin Bet security service to continue to prevent the suspects from meeting with their lawyers, Haaretz reported.

The Hand In Hand Jerusalem School is Israel’s largest joint Arab-Jewish school and the only such primary and high school in the city. Five Hand in Hand schools are located throughout the country.

Netanyahu: Israeli objections staved off bad Iran deal

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Israel helped head off a bad deal with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed in an address to a forum of U.S. and Israeli leaders.

“A Nov. 24 deadline for an agreement has come and gone, and that’s fortunate,” Netanyahu said Sunday in a recorded address to the Saban Forum, which was convened under the auspices of the Brookings Institution, in Washington.

“Our voice and our concerns played a critical role in preventing a bad deal,” Netanyahu said. “We must use the time available to increase the pressure on Iran from developing a nuclear arms capability.”

The major powers and Iran agreed to extend the deadline for a deal in Iran nuclear talks to June 30.

Israel has objected persistently to any deal that would leave Iran with uranium enrichment capacity. The United States and other powers say that a minimal capacity is likely in a final deal.

Speaking after the broadcast of Netanyahu’s recorded video, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry alluded to Netanyahu’s objections in strongly defending the talks with Iran.

“Many voices had claimed we had made a tragic mistake,” Kerry said, describing events a year ago after the terms of the negotiations were outlined. Now, he said, by reducing Iran’s enrichment output, Israel and the world are safer.

“Iran has lived up to every commitment” of the interim deal, Kerry said, but added that “we have no intention of negotiating forever.”

Netanyahu and Kerry also seemed to differ on the failed talks with the Palestinians, with Netanyahu saying it was Palestinian intransigence and not Israeli construction in eastern Jerusalem that scuttled the talks.

Kerry said that “settlements are undermining prospects for peace and isolating Israel in the international community.”

The secretary of state pledged that the United States would not interfere in the coming Israeli elections, but said that brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace remained a priority.

Netanyahu said he was committed to preserving Israel’s status as the Jewish nation-state, but pledged that he would “never agree to legislation that undermines Israel’s democratic character.”

A proposed Israeli constitutional law that would define Israel as Jewish have raised concerns both in the Obama administration and among a number of American Jewish groups.

IDF launches criminal probes into Gaza operation incidents

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Israel Defense Forces opened criminal investigations into eight deadly incidents that occurred during its 50-day Gaza operation.

The investigations, involving the deaths of 30 Gazan Palestinians, were announced Saturday night by the IDF’s Magistrate Advocate General service. Among the incidents is a July 20 airstrike on the home of the Abu Jama family in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, that left 27 dead. Most were believed to be civilians.

Some 13 cases are currently under investigation. About 85 incidents are under “various stages of review,” according to the IDF.

The IDF also announced Saturday that seven other cases were closed in which the investigation “did not find that the forces’ actions in these reported incidents appeared to substantiate reasonable grounds for suspicion of criminal behavior, and therefore there is no basis for an investigation.”

The Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism was established during the summer’s Gaza conflict to investigate individual incidents and decide if a criminal investigation is warranted. It also will “assist in preventing exceptional incidents in the future,” Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni, the army’s chief military advocate general, who appointed the fact-finding commission, said in a statement.

More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza operation, according to figures furnished by Gaza institutions that said most of the victims were civilians. Some 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.

Cousin of murdered Palestinian teen helped supermarket terror victims

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A cousin of the Palestinian teen who was burned alive in an apparent retaliatory attack was among the first to help the wounded in a stabbing attack at a West Bank supermarket.

Mahmoud Abu Khdeir, whose cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir was killed this summer in the Jerusalem forest in apparent retaliation for the murder of three kidnapped Israeli teens, rushed to help the wounded inside the Rami Levy discount supermarket in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone near Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem.

The assailant in the Dec. 3 attack was identified as a 16-year-old Palestinian male from a West Bank village with no prior record. He was shot in the legs by a supermarket security guard.

Khdeir was working in the supermarket’s storeroom when the attack took place.

He helped stop the bleeding on a man’s head and got him upstairs to an office for further treatment.

“That’s how I was taught to behave by my family,” Khdeir told Ynet. “When someone is wounded, you help them. It doesn’t matter where they’re from.

He added: “I was raised in a good family. I’m not at war. At work, when I see something like this, I have to help. It’s a matter of education: I believe that tomorrow the wounded man will see someone else and go help him. I hope that one day the situation will change and we will no longer have incidents such as this. But force brings more force, and peace brings peace.”

Jewish food historian Gil Marks dead at 62

(JTA)—Gil Marks, an acclaimed Jewish food writer and historian, has died.

Marks, who had been battling lung cancer for three years, died last Friday in Jerusalem. He was 62.

He was the author of five books on the subject of Jewish food and was the founding editor of Kosher Gourmet Magazine. His 2004 cookbook “Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World” was a winner in the 2005 James Beard Foundation Awards, often referred to as the “Oscars of Food.”

In 2010, Marks published “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” the first attempt within the American Jewish culinary community to compile a comprehensive reference guide for Jewish food.

The critically acclaimed volume was nominated for another James Beard Award, and earned Marks a spot on the Forward 50, a list of the 50 most influential American Jews of that year.

Along with his accomplishments in the world of food, Marks was also an Orthodox rabbi, with ordination from a Yeshiva University affiliate.

Marks, who lived most of his life in New York, was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2011 and made aliyah to Israel the following year. He was active on social media, and documented his three-year struggle with the disease on Facebook along with personal posts about food, Judaism and family.

His funeral was to be held on Sunday.

Israel, Presidents Conference urge Pollard release after collapse

WASHINGTON (JTA) – In the wake of news that Jonathan Pollard collapsed in prison and was taken to a hospital, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the United States to release the convicted spy for Israel.

Netanyahu called Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday night, a day after Pollard’s collapse.

“Pollard’s life is in danger,” Netanyahu said after the phone call. “After 30 years in prison, it’s time he should be released and live the rest of his life as a free man.”

Pollard reportedly will be returned to the infirmary of the federal prison in Butner, N.C., in the coming days and will require surgery soon, The Jerusalem Post reported, citing activists working on behalf of Pollard’s release.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also urged President Obama to release Pollard following news of his collapse.

“We urge President Obama, especially in this holiday season and given Mr. Pollard’s worsening health, to take steps immediately to expedite Mr. Pollard’s release and to commute his life sentence to the more than 29 years he has already served,” said the statement issued Friday by the Presidents Conference, the U.S. Jewish foreign policy umbrella.

Pollard has been jailed since his arrest in 1985 for spying for Israel. He had surgery in March and has been hospitalized several times in recent years, mostly for kidney and liver problems.

The former civilian U.S. Navy analyst was sentenced to life in prison in 1987. Many former U.S. officials involved in his identification and prosecution now advocate for his release.

The Presidents Conference in its statement also scored the U.S. Parole Commission for turning down Pollard’s first application for parole, earlier this year.

“It is regrettable and inexplicable that the Parole Board denied his application after serving 30 years, much of it in solitary confinement, far beyond anyone accused of a comparable crime,” the statement said.

GOP lawmakers press administration on Israel ‘sanctions’ claim

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Republicans in Congress are asking the Obama administration to explain a murkily sourced claim that it is considering “sanctions” against Israel.

“Recent reports suggest that your administration has held classified meetings over the past several weeks to discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions against Israel for its decision to construct homes in East Jerusalem,” said the letter sent last Friday and signed by 48 members of the U.S. House of Representatives led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.). “Israel is one of our strongest allies, and the mere notion that the administration would unilaterally impose sanctions against Israel is not only unwise, but is extremely worrisome.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) issued similar statements.

The appeals are apparently based on a Dec. 4 story in Haaretz reporting that the Obama administration “is examining taking action against the construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, rather than making do with issuing denunciatory statements.”

The article, which is based on a claim from an anonymous Israeli official who said he was briefed by an American official, does not cite any “sanctions.” The Free Beacon, a conservative news site, picked up the Haaretz report and used “sanctions” repeatedly but did not explain why.

In Haaretz, the anonymous Israeli official describes discussions between State Department and White House officials that encompass the contemplation of actions ranging from withholding the traditional U.S. veto on U.N. Security Council resolutions critical of Israel to issuing “clearer instructions” about a ban in place on U.S. funding for settlements.

The ban referred to is not clear. Obama’s predecessors up to President George W. Bush withheld from Israel a percentage of loan guarantees based on the rate of Israeli investment in settlement activities, but Obama has suspended the practice. The United States does not directly fund settlements, although it allows tax-exempt dollars to reach their charities.

White House and State Department officials have refused to comment on the story, noting its anonymous sourcing and a policy of generally not commenting on internal deliberations.

“I’m obviously not going to respond to unidentified anonymous sources’ reports about alleged internal deliberations,” Marie Harf, the State Department spokeswoman, said Friday.

Hagee: Meant to call Obama anti-Israel, not anti-Semitic

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Pastor John Hagee “clarified” that he did not mean to call President Obama anti-Semitic but anti-Israel.

Hagee, the Christians United for Israel founder, in a statement last Friday said he was issuing a clarification to comments he made Nov. 23 to the Zionist Organization of America’s annual dinner in New York following “conversations with friends in the pro-Israel community.”

The “friends” included Robert Sugarman and Malcolm Hoenlein, respectively the chairman and executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“The prepared text of my remarks before the Zionist Organization of America called President Obama one of the most ‘anti-Israel’ presidents in U.S. history,” Hagee said in his statement. “During my speech, I inadvertently called him one of the most ‘anti-Semitic’ presidents in history.”

The statement added, “While I regret my misstatement, I stand behind my prepared remarks. I believe that those of us who love Israel must be aggressive in our criticism thereof.”

The Anti-Defamation League had slammed Hagee for calling Obama anti-Semitic, saying it was a “serious denigration and distortion of the term.”

Brazilian pool sports giant swastika

(JTA)—A large swastika was discovered painted on the bottom of a swimming pool in southern Brazil.

The large Nazi symbol was identified during a kidnapping investigation last week, where police used aerial surveillance, CNN reported.

Located on private property in Pomerode, in the southern state of Santa Catarina, the swastika reportedly has decorated the bottom of the pool for 13 years.

No charges will be filed since the pool is located on private property, according to CNN, citing local officials.

The homeowner is not promoting Nazism, according to local officials.

Many Germans and Austrians immigrated to the Santa Catarina region, which according to a Brazilian tourist website is home to the second largest Oktoberfest in the world, attracting well over 1 million people every year.


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