Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Israel lists its requirements for final nuclear deal with Iran

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel has created a list of requirements it says are needed in a final deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

The list was presented Monday by Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence and strategic affairs, The New York Times reported, to reporters at a hotel in Jerusalem.

Steinitz said the modifications to the final agreement, which is scheduled to be finalized by the end of June, will make it more acceptable to Israel.

Among the requirements on the list, according to The New York Times, is ending Iranian research and development on advanced centrifuges; closing the underground Fordo facility; requiring Iran to disclose past nuclear activities with military uses; and requiring Iran to allow nuclear inspectors into the country “anytime, anywhere.”

Steinitz said Israel had put forth an alternative to the framework agreement announced last week.

“The alternative is not necessary to declare war on Iran,” he said. “It is to increase pressure on Iran and stand firm and make Iran make serious concessions and have a much better deal.”

Israel also has prepared a list of 10 questions to the negotiators of the framework agreement with Iran.

Among the questions listed in the document are:

* Why are sanctions that took years to put in place being removed immediately?

* Given Iran’s track record of concealing illicit nuclear activities, why can’t inspectors conduct inspections anywhere, anytime?

* Why will Iran be allowed to continue R&D on centrifuges far more advanced than those currently in its possession?

Israeli who faked kidnapping apologizes

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The Israeli man who faked his own kidnapping apologized for the incident.

Niv Asraf, 22, spoke publicly on Monday outside his Beersheba home after he was released conditionally from an Israeli prison.

“If I had seen all the chaos, believe me, I wouldn’t have done it,” he said. “I didn’t plan for this. If I had known it would be considered a kidnapping, I never would have done it. No one told me what was happening outside. I was isolated.”

Asraf said he decided to go into hiding after receiving a phone call “from which I knew there was no turning back. I’d rather disappear than be done in.” He said he ran away due to debts that he owed to “well-known criminals.”

“I hope I’m forgiven. It’s up to every soldier who went searching for me to forgive me or not,” Asraf said. “My goal was for the police to help me, to put two and two together and check where I’d gone. I prefer to be the most hated person in Israel than for my father to mourn me.”

Asraf had told his interrogators that he owed tens of thousands of shekels in gambling debts.

He is accused of giving false evidence, breach of public order and obstruction of a police officer’s performance of duty. Police said they intend to file an indictment against Asraf this week.

The search for Asraf last week involved some 3,000 soldiers and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Israeli security forces were alerted to Asraf’s disappearance on April 2 by an accomplice, Eran Nagaukar. He said Asraf entered the Palestinian village of Beit Anun, near Hebron, to get help after they became stranded with a flat tire.

Nagaukar originally said his friend staged the kidnapping to get the attention of a former girlfriend.

Following his release from prison on Monday, Nagaukar said he wanted to help his friend, saying, “I saw the distress in his eyes. It was purely to save him. It wasn’t planned.”

Nagaukar asked for forgiveness from the Defense Ministry, the police and “anyone else we wronged.”

Three Israeli teens were kidnapped and killed last summer near the same West Bank area.

Visitors to Israeli park turned away for carrying chametz

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Visitors to a public park in Israel were turned away because they carried food that was not kosher for Passover.

The security guard at the entrance to the park in Afula, in northern Israel, was checking visitor’s bags for weapons and for chametz, according to reports.

Visitors found to have chametz in their bags were not allowed into the park. Several ate their sandwiches outside the park before gaining entry.

“The Afula municipal park is a public facility that serves the residents of the city and its environs, and so the public is asked to refrain from bringing chametz into it during the holiday, as is customary in many other public institutions,” the municipality said in a statement.

Israeli law prohibits the display and sale of chametz during Passover. Chametz also is prohibited in hospitals and other public institutions.

Barak Avivi, a Tel Aviv attorney, told Haaretz that he was considering filing a class-action lawsuit with the municipality on behalf of those who were turned away for having chametz with them.

SodaStream reportedly changes some labeling to ‘Made in the West Bank’

JERUSALEM (JTA)—SodaStream changed the labels on some of its products to note that they were manufactured in the West Bank, according to an international media group.

The labels were changed to read “Made in the West Bank” following a complaint filed nearly a year ago with the Oregon Department of Justice, the International Middle East Media Center, a collaboration between Palestinian and international journalists, reported.

Two groups that advocate for boycotting products made in the West Bank accused SodaStream of violating the state’s Fair Trade Practices Act by labeling its products as “Made in Israel” when its main production plant is in Maale Adumim, a West Bank settlement.

Oregon’s Fair Trade Practices Act is a consumer protection law that makes false advertising of a consumer product illegal.

The complaint was filed last May by the PDX Boycott Occupation Soda! Coalition and the Mid-Valley BDS coalition of Oregon’s Willamette River Valley. SodaStream is preparing to move from its West Bank headquarters.

“This appears to be the first time that an Israeli settlement manufacturer has corrected its labels for products sold in the United States,” Rod Such of the PDX Boycott Occupation Soda! Coalition told the media center. “Many people of conscience refuse to purchase products made in Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, but in the case of SodaStream they were deceived by false labeling that claimed the products were produced within Israel’s internationally recognized borders.”

SodaStream has long come under fire for producing its popular line of home carbonation machines in the West Bank. In October, the company announced it would close the Maale ADumim factory and move it to Lehavim, in southern Israel. The move is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

International hacking group threatens repeat of cyber attack on Israel

(JTA)—The international hacking group Anonymous said it will target Israeli websites in a coordinated effort it called an “electronic Holocaust.”

The organization said that its “elite cyber squadrons” would attack Israeli servers, government and military websites, banks and public institutions on April 7, as it did one year ago.

“This is a message to the foolish Zionist entities: We are coming back to punish you again for your crimes in the Palestinian territories, as we do every year on the 7th of April,” the video message posted last month on YouTube said. “All we see is continued aggression, bombing, killing and kidnapping of the Palestinian people.”

The message showed images of last summer’s conflict in Gaza, including video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel being briefed by Israeli army officers.

Exactly one year ago, Anonymous launched an identical attack against Israel that brought down the websites of the country’s postal service and Education Ministry, as well as some private Israeli websites. The group also published online a list of phone numbers, emails and passwords of senior Israeli officials.

The year before, the group took down dozens of websites and published online a list of hundreds of Israeli email addresses and credit card numbers.

The April 7 attack, the latest video said, is an “electronic Holocaust” designed to be “a message to the youth of Palestine.”

“You are a symbol of freedom, resistance and hope. Never give up and never give in, we will support you,” the message said.

The attacks will continue, Anonymous said, “until the people of Palestine are free.”

Arab-Israeli lawmaker calls out int’l community over Yarmouk massacre

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmed Tibi called the Islamic State takeover of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp “a crime against humanity.”

Tibi, a member of the Arab Joint List party, said on Monday that the international community, and Arab countries specifically, bear responsibility for allowing the violence in Yarmouk to occur.

More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed since the Islamic State took over about 90 percent of the camp in the last week.

“I feel anger and great sadness about what is happening in what is left of the camp,” he said. “There is a moral double standard. If other people were the victims, not Palestinians, it would be different.”

Prior to the takeover, Yarmouk was under siege by the Syrian government.

Hundreds of Palestinians have fled the camp since the start of the takeover, and tens of thousands during the four years of civil war in Syria.

Tibi said Yarmouk is “another case where the refugees who suffered in the Nakba of 1948 are now suffering again.” Nakba refers to Israel’s attaining of statehood.

On Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah called on the sides not to drag the Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk into Syria’s conflicts.

“We announced more than four years ago that we have not interfered in the internal affairs of any Arab country and therefore we reject any interference in our affairs,” Abbas said during the dedication of a public garden. “We have no relations with what is going on in Syria.”

On Monday, a Palestinian refugee living in Yarmouk, identified as M, told Ynet, “Today I walked through the bombs and sniper fire to feed my children. You have to understand, my neighbor went to get food for his children, was shot by a sniper and died. Today we buried him. That’s how it is here: If you want to feed your children, you need to take your funeral shroud with you. There are snipers on every street, you are not safe anywhere.”

Netanyahu goes on American TV to rip Iran nuclear deal

(JTA)—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the American airwaves to criticize the framework agreement between Iran and the world powers on Iran’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu appeared on Sunday morning news programs on ABC, NBC and CNN.

“The entire world celebrated the deal with North Korea. It deemed to be a great breakthrough; it would bring an end to North Korea’s nuclear program; you’d have inspectors. That would do the job. And of course everybody applauded it, but it turned out to be a very, very bad deal and you know where we are with North Korea,” Netanyahu told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I think the same thing would be true in the case of Iran, except that Iran is a great deal more dangerous than North Korea. It’s a militant Islamic power bent on regional domination—in fact, bent on world domination, as it openly says so. They just chanted ‘Death to America’ a few days ago on the streets of Tehran, the same streets where they’re rejoicing right now.

“Don’t give the preeminent terrorist state of our time the access to a nuclear program that could help them make nuclear weapons. It’s very bad for all of us,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu told CNN that under the deal, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain in place, with “not a single centrifuge destroyed, not a single nuclear facility shut down, including the underground facilities that they built illicitly. Thousands of centrifuges will keep spinning, enriching uranium. That’s a very bad deal.

“They’re getting a free path to the bomb,” Netanyahu said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is Jewish, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday morning that the agreement does not threaten Israel’s survival and that Netanyahu should “contain himself because he has put out no real alternative. In his speech to the Congress—no real alternative. Since then—no real alternative.”

Feinstein said his public criticism of the framework agreement and attempts to turn the public against it was doing great harm.

“This can backfire on him,” she said.

Abbas refuses tax revenues released by Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to accept its frozen tax revenues released by Israel.

Abbas said Sunday that he would not take the funds because Israel had deducted some of the money to cover the Palestinians’ debts for utilities and hospital bills.

Israel collects taxes for the Palestinians and then transfers the funds to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel withheld the collected tax revenues beginning in January after Abbas signed requests in late December to join the International Criminal Court and other international conventions as a result of the failure of the United Nations Security Council to pass a Palestinian statehood proposal.

The Palestinians are believed to owe millions of dollars to Israel for utilities, as well as for visits to Israeli hospitals, Reuters reported. Abbas said Israel had deducted one-third of the money owed to it.

“We are returning the money,” Abbas said. “Either they give it to us in full or we go to arbitration or to the (International Criminal) Court. We will not accept anything else.”

The P.A. said last week that its public employees would receive 60 percent of their salaries for the month of March, the Wafa Palestinian news and information agency reported, because Israel had not yet provided the frozen tax revenues.

Report: Iran helping Hamas rebuild terror tunnels

(JTA)—Iran has sent tens of millions of dollars to Hamas to help rebuild the Gaza tunnels destroyed by Israel during last summer’s conflict, the Telegraph reported.

Iran also is funding new missiles to replenish the supply used to attack Israel before and during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, the London-based newspaper reported Sunday, citing unnamed intelligence sources.

Iran has sponsored Hamas’ military operations for years, according to the newspaper.

Hamas used the tunnels to bring in supplies and rockets for use against Israel, and to send terrorists to infiltrate inside Israel to carry out attacks.

Israel’s military destroyed some three dozen tunnels in Gaza during the summer’s conflict.

Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups shot thousands of rockets at Israel last summer.

Hamas has not denied that it is rebuilding its tunnels, and residents of Israel’s South have said that they hear subterranean noises and believe that it is the sound of the tunnels under construction.

1 trampled to death, 3 critically hurt at haredi rabbi’s funeral in Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA)—One man was killed and three people were critically injured when mourners surged around the coffin during the funeral procession in Israel for a senior haredi Orthodox rabbi.

Nearly 100,000 mourners came to Bnei Brak early Sunday morning for the funeral for Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner, who died last Friday night, shortly before the start of the Passover holiday. He was 101.

The man trampled to death was identified as Mordechai Moti Gerber, 27, of Elad. He was a former student of the rabbi. Gerber is survived by a wife and his young son.

Among the three critically injured was a 14-year-old boy. The police have opened an investigation into possible negligence.

Wosner immigrated to Mandatory Palestine before the outbreak of World War II and later established the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. He is the author of the Shevet Halevi commentary on Jewish law. He had been hospitalized since March.

Report: Rwanda and Israel discuss contracts-for-refugees deal

(JTA)—Israel and Rwanda are discussing a deal in which the East African nation would take in illegal migrants from the Jewish state in exchange for favorable contracts.

Under the proposed agreement, which has come under scrutiny by human rights organizations, Israel would send hundreds of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, many of them asylum-seekers, to Rwanda in return for favorable deals that include millions of dollars in grants, The East African reported last Friday.

The information is based on statements made by Rwandan President Paul Kagame during a press conference in Kigali on April 2, the paper reported. In addition to Rwanda, Israel is rumored to have reached a similar arrangement with Uganda, though neither Kampala nor Jerusalem confirmed this.

Asked by a reporter about the contacts, Kagame said he was not aware of the specifics but confirmed the talks were ongoing.

“On Rwanda and Israel, yes, I know there has been this discussion,” he said, “and it has been a debate in Israel about these Africans who have migrated to Israel as they do to other European countries. Some of them are either there illegally or with different status.”

Israel’s Interior Ministry confirmed this week in a statement that it will “expel immigrants from the detention centers” and encourage migrants “to leave Israel in a safe and respectable way” for specific African countries that would grant them legal immigration rights.

Approximately 50,000 Africans who entered Israel through Egypt live in Israel, which is bound by international treaties to let them stay while they have United Nations refugee status. However, they can be relocated to a third country willing to accept them. Israel’s deal with Rwanda and possibly with Uganda as well have been criticized by refugee rights groups, which have expressed concern over the human rights records of Rwanda and Uganda and questioned whether the refugees’ status would be honored once they arrive in Africa.

Many asylum-seekers are held in southern Israel’s Holot detention facility. In recent years, a new barrier along the Egypt-Israel border has stopped additional newcomers from arriving.

Recording reveals Israeli troops’ deception during ‘75 Savoy Hotel attack

(JTA)—A declassified recording of Israeli special forces during the 1975 Savoy Hotel attack revealed how they negotiated with Palestinian terrorists while planning the raid that killed them.

The recording from the March 4, 1975 attack in Tel Aviv was aired for the first time on Army Radio on April 2, after its release by the IDF.

Carried out by eight Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists, the Savoy Hotel attack ended with seven of the eight perpetrators dead, along with seven civilian hostages and three Israeli soldiers.

In the recording of a telephone conversation that took place six hours before the Sayeret Matkal commando unit stormed the besieged hotel, the chief negotiator for the Israeli counter-terrorism team spoke with a hostage who served as translator to communicate with the terrorists.

“They’re saying they just want to live with us in peace and that if they are allowed to leave, everything will be alright,” the hostage, Kochava Levy, is heard saying in Hebrew.

Rubi Peled, the negotiator, answered: “That’s the plan. Tell them there is no intention to play games here, just keep the hostages safe.”

The terrorists also demanded the French ambassador come to discuss the terms of their extraction from the hotel, which they had reached by boat.

When commando troops breached the perimeter, the terrorists set off explosive charges that blew up the hotel’s top floor.

The attack was one of the worst takeover and siege situations that Palestinian terrorists carried out in Tel Aviv.

Obama makes pitch for Iran deal, promises to stand by Israel

(JTA)—President Obama promised to defend Israel in making his most comprehensive case yet for a diplomatic resolution of the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

In a lengthy interview Saturday with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, Obama made his pitch for the framework accord reached Thursday in Switzerland to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for a gradual relaxing of sanctions.

Though he acknowledged the legitimacy of Israel’s concerns about Iran, noting its leaders’ denial of the Holocaust and repeated threats to eliminate the Jewish state, Obama reiterated his view that a negotiated agreement is the “best bet” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“There is no formula, there is no option, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon that will be more effective than the diplomatic initiative and framework that we put forward—and that’s demonstrable,” Obama said.

Obama emphasized that he understood the fears of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in an appearance on CNN Sunday morning said the deal offers Iran a “free path to the bomb.” The president promised to maintain Israel’s military edge and protect it from aggression, saying the deal is “sending a very clear message to the Iranians and to the entire region that if anybody messes with Israel, America will be there.”

Comparing his engagement with Iran to his diplomatic opening with Cuba, Obama asserted that the United States could pursue detente with Tehran without risking its core strategic interests. And though he acknowledged that Israel is more vulnerable to Iran than the United States, Obama said American security guarantees should be “sufficient” to deter an attack.

“But what I would say to [Israelis] is that not only am I absolutely committed to making sure that they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks, but what I’m willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them,” Obama said. “And that, I think, should be... sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table.”


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