Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Funeral held for West Bank mother of 6 as search for killer moves to 2nd day

TEL AVIV (JTA)—Hundreds attended the funeral for the Israeli mother of six who was stabbed to death in her West Bank home as the manhunt continued for her assailant.

Dafna Meir, 38, was laid to rest Monday morning at the Har Hamenuhot cemetery in Jerusalem. Among those on hand were Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

Meir, a nurse, was stabbed to death in her home the previous day in the Otniel settlement. Three of her children were present.

Her 17-year-old daughter, Ranana, witnessed the attack and described the assailant to Israeli authorities, according to Israeli media reports.

In her eulogy at the funeral, Ranana called her mother her best friend.

“You left us with an enormous vacuum,” she said. “You won’t come with me to my wedding, to the army, to the delivery room. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you during the hardest moments.”

Meir died while attempting to fight off her attacker and prevent him from hurting the three children, who were home when he entered the house, the Israeli media reported. He fled after killing Meir and did not attempt to stab any of her children.

According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Meir’s four biological children ranged in age from 11 to 14, and two adopted kids were 4- and 6-year-old boys. Meir, who worked at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, was adopted at 13.

In the manhunt for her killer, dozens of Palestinians were detained in overnight sweeps throughout the West Bank, according to Israeli media reports.

His escape was captured by security footage, but investigators have been unable to determine how he entered the settlement. Israeli media reports circulated theories that the suspect was employed as a construction worker in the settlement, and thus entered through the front gate.

On Sunday night, the Hebron Hills Regional Council banned Palestinian workers from entering area settlements the next day, the Times of Israel reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Monday sending his condolences to the family, including Meir’s husband, Natan, and vowed swift punishment.

“Whoever tries to harm us, we will bring him to justice,” Netanyahu said. “In the end he will be found and he will pay the full price.”

On Monday morning, the West Bank was the scene of another stabbing attack—of a pregnant Israeli woman—in the Tekoa settlement. The woman was moderately injured, according to Magen David Adom.

Tekoa is in the Gush Etzion bloc, which has been the scene of several deadly incidents since the spate of attacks by Palestinian assailants began in October.

Pregnant Israeli stabbed in West Bank

TEL AVIV (JTA)—A pregnant Israeli was stabbed in the West Bank less than 24 hours after a mother of six was stabbed to death in a settlement there.

Michal Froman, 30, suffered moderate wounds to her upper body on Monday after being attacked at a clothing warehouse in the Tekoa settlement, the Israel Defense Forces said.

After attempting to flee the scene, the alleged Palestinian attacker was shot by a Tekoa resident, according to the IDF. The teenage assailant was in serious condition at an Israeli hospital.

On Monday, the IDF ordered all Palestinian workers employed in the Gush Etzion bloc to leave. Gush Etzion, a bloc that includes Tekoa, has been the scene of several deadly incidents since the spate of Palestinian attacks against Israelis began in October.

Froman reportedly is the daughter-in-law of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, a peace activist and the former chief rabbi of Tekoa.

On Sunday, Dafna Meir was stabbed by an assailant who broke into her Otniel home. Three of her six children witnessed the attack.

Slain migrant in Beersheba attack lay untreated for 18 minutes, new video shows

TEL AVIV (JTA)—New closed-circuit television footage shows the deadly beating of an Eritrean migrant who was mistaken for a terrorist after an attack in Beersheba laying untreated on the floor for 18 minutes.

The footage released Monday by Haaretz shows Haftom Zarhum, 29, lying on the floor of the Beersheba central bus station before being treated by members of Magen David Adom, who had arrived 10 minutes earlier. The Israeli newspaper did not say how it received the video.

Zarhum was shot several times and attacked by nine people, including Israeli civilians, security forces, prison officials and soldiers, believing he was a terrorist, the footage shows. Four of the alleged attackers have been indicted. An Israeli citizen who attempted to shield Zarhum from the crowd was  pushed aside and hit.

The actual assailant, a Bedouin citizen of Israel, killed a soldier and wounded about a dozen others in the Oct. 18 attack at the bus station.

Zarhum had been seeking an extension for his visa to remain in Israel.

Iran denounces new US sanctions on ballistic missile program

(JTA)—Days after the landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers went into effect, the United States issued new sanctions tied to Iran’s ballistic missile program.

On Sunday, the Treasury Department announced it would impose penalties on 11 individuals and companies in Iran, China and the United Arab Emirates for helping to provide Iran with secret materials to develop its ballistic missile program in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat to regional and global security, and it will continue to be subject to international sanctions,” Treasury Undersecretary Adam Szubin said in a statement. “We have consistently made clear that the United States will vigorously press sanctions against Iranian activities outside of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—including those related to Iran’s support for terrorism, regional destabilization, human rights abuses, and ballistic missile program.”

A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Hossein Jaber Ansari, said “Iran’s missile program has never been designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons,” according to Iran’s ISNA news agency. Ansari referred to the new penalties as illegitimate, saying his country “responds with determination to such propaganda by accelerating its legal ballistic missile program and boosting defense capabilities.”

Since the historic deal was reached in July between Iran and six world powers, Iran has test-launched ballistic missiles at least once.

Iran met its requirements on the pact last week and sanctions were lifted.

US ambassador to Israel blasts ‘2 standards’ of law in West Bank

TEL AVIV (JTA)—The U.S. ambassador to Israel reportedly slammed the Israeli legal system in the West Bank, saying, “Too much Israeli vigilantism in the West Bank goes on unchecked.”

Daniel Shapiro, speaking Monday at a Tel Aviv conference organized by the Institute for National Security Studies, added that “at times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to rule of law in the West Bank—one for Jews and one for Palestinians,” Haaretz reported.

Shapiro emphasized the U.S. government stance that a two-state solution is the best solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The United States is “concerned and perplexed” by recent Israeli government actions on the settlements, “which raise questions about Israeli intentions,” he said.

That evening, the Prime Minister’s Office of Israel issued a statement condemning Shapiro’s remarks as “unacceptable and incorrect.”

“The words of the ambassador, on a day in which a murdered mother of six is buried and on a day in which a pregnant woman is stabbed—are unacceptable and incorrect,” the statement said. “Israel enforces the law for Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority is the one responsible for the diplomatic freeze, and continues to incite and refuse talks.”

Shapiro’s criticism echoes other expressions of concern voiced by the U.S. government in recent weeks.

Following Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s approval of a new settlement in a church compound in the West Bank, State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a news briefing that the administration was “deeply concerned” by Israeli actions that demonstrate a lack of commitment to the two-state solution.

Israel’s decision to establish a new settlement “only expands this significant majority of the West Bank that has already been claimed for exclusive Israeli use,” Kirby told reporters, according to Haaretz.

The State Department has also expressed concerns over Israel’s controversial NGO bill, rejecting comparisons between the Israeli proposal requiring registration of foreign-funded NGOs and U.S. laws registering foreign interest lobbyists.

9 Israelis arrested in price fixing of school trips to Poland

TEL AVIV (JTA)—Nine suspects were arrested in what Israeli police believe is a criminal ring that monopolized the market for school trips to Poland in an effort to fix prices.

Among those arrested following police raids Monday morning on homes and offices were a high-level staffer of a large travel agency and two CEOs of smaller agencies, according to police spokeswoman Luba Samri. Israel’s antitrust authority also included searches of bank accounts in its investigation.

The suspects are accused of violating antitrust laws, accepting bribes and committing fraud.

The antitrust authority alleges that officials in the top travel agencies teamed to fix prices for groups of young Israelis traveling to Poland for Jewish seminars and heritage trips. According to Israeli media reports, the suspects won the tender from Israel’s Ministry of Education to coordinate and facilitate school trips to Poland.

Organized school trips to Poland are commonplace for young Israeli students. They typically cost parents thousands of shekels, making them inaccessible to lower-income students.

Jerusalem monastery vandalized with anti-Christian graffiti

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Benedictine monastery in Jerusalem was vandalized with anti-Christian graffiti.

The graffiti was discovered on Saturday night at Dormition Abbey, located on Mount Zion just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, according to reports.

The graffiti, written in Hebrew, included: “Christians to Hell,” “May his name be obliterated,” and “Death to the heathen Christians the enemies of Israel.”

It is not the first time that the abbey has been targeted. Anti-Christian graffiti was painted on the abbey’s walls in 2013 and 2012. Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the abbey during a visit in 2014.

A police investigation has been opened into the incident.

The abbey is believed to be the site where the Virgin Mary died. It is located next to the site considered to be the tomb of King David.

Netanyahu: Israel will continue to monitor Iranian nuclear activity

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel will continue to monitor Iranian nuclear activity and warn about any violations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu’s comments came at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, one day after Iran gained relief from international sanctions following certification of its compliance with obligations under the nuclear deal reached this summer.

On Saturday, President Barack Obama and the European Union immediately ordered the suspension of a range of sanctions that had been imposed on Iran because of its suspected nuclear weapons program. Also Saturday, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran has complied with the nuclear rollback component of the nuclear deal.

“Israel’s policy is exactly as it has been—not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. What is clear is that Iran will now have more resources to divert to terrorism and its aggression in the region and around the world, and Israel is prepared to deal with any threat,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu added that discussions between Israel and the Obama administration are “currently being completed on a document of understandings for the coming decade regarding security assistance to the State of Israel. This is an important part of permanent policy between us and the United States, our ally, and it is important in order to repel threats in the region, especially the Iranian threat.”

Israel had fought aggressively against the nuclear deal, arguing that it would not prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

On Sunday, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said everyone was happy about the official implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, “except Zionists, warmongers, sowers of discord among Islamic nations and extremists in the U.S. The rest are happy.”

Rouhani made his comments to the Iranian parliament in an address broadcast live to the nation on state television, according to reports.

“The friends of Iran are happy and its competitors need not worry. We are not a threat to any government or nation,” Rouhani reportedly said. “We are a messenger of peace, stability and security in the region and the world.”

Iran in compliance, sanctions lifted, Levinson not among prisoners released

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Jewish-American Robert Levinson was not included in a prisoner exchange with Iran that came as the U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal and the West rolled back sanctions.

Iran on Saturday released five Americans it was holding in its prisons or in detention, four of them as part of a prison swap that included the release of Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist detained on espionage charges since 2014.

The exchange comes on “implementation day” of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal Iran concluded last year with the United States and five other major powers.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Saturday confirmed that Iran has complied with the nuclear rollback component of the deal, which will trigger immediate sanctions relief.

President Barack Obama and the European Union immediately ordered the suspension of a range of sanctions that had been imposed on Iran because of its suspected nuclear weapons program.

According to Reuters, the United States dropped charges against or commuted the sentences of eight Iranians involved in sanctions violations.

As part of the deal, Interpol removed 14 Iranians from its wanted list. A number of news agencies initially speculated that some of those named were suspected of involvement in the deadly deadly bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, but this proved untrue and the reports were retracted. “Speculation that any of the 14 fugitives was at all connected to the bombing in Argentina is patently baseless and untrue,” a U.S. official told JTA. “The fugitives faced sanctions or export control violations.”

Levinson, 68, of Coral Springs, Florida, has been missing for nearly nine years. CNN quoted Levinson’s family as expressing happiness for the other families, but saying it was “devastated” that he was not among those released.

His family has acknowledged in recent years that Levinson, a father of seven, had been working for the CIA in a rogue operation at the time of his disappearance from Iran’s Kish Island.

Levinson is a private detective and former FBI agent. For years it had been reported that he was working as a private investigator when he disappeared.

Iran denies official involvement in his disappearance and the Washington Post quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying that as part of the exchange deal, Iran “committed to continue cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Robert Levinson.”

According to the Reuters report, the United States delayed sanctions targeting Iran for testing a ballistic missile late last year in order not to scuttle the prisoner exchange.

Republicans and some pro-Israel groups had criticized the Obama administration for delaying those sanctions, which would be triggered under U.N. Security Council resolutions and which are separate from the sanctions to be lifted under the nuclear deal.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee called implementation day for the deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “a turning point in Iran’s strength as a terrorist state and in its ability to pursue regional dominance” in a statement.

“These failures to penalize Iran for its irresponsible behavior, violations of international restrictions and failure to come clean on its past nuclear activities hardly inspire confidence for the strict implementation of the JCPOA,” it said.

2 Palestinians reported killed in riots near Gaza-Israel border

(JTA)—Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians during riots near the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel, Palestinian officials said.

The incident occurred last Friday afternoon during clashes near al-Breij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, medical sources told the Palestinian Maan news agency.

Doctors told Maan that Muhammad Abu Zayed, 19, had been shot in the head. Hours later, a second Palestinian, Muhammad Majdi Qaita, 26, died after being shot in the stomach during clashes in the same area.

Medics added that at least 10 other Palestinian youths had been shot and wounded with live fire during the clashes.

An Israeli army spokeswoman told Maan that “multiple riots” were taking place along the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel last Friday.

The spokeswoman said a number of Palestinians had “breached the buffer zone” and “damaged” the fence in the central Gaza Strip before Israeli forces “called on them to halt and fired warning shots into the air.”

Shots were then fired directly at the demonstrators following the “threat of infiltration,” the spokeswoman said, adding that she was aware of reports of Friday’s death but was unable to confirm that any Palestinians were hit.

Separately, an Israeli soldier was wounded in clashes with Palestinian rioters on Friday near Ramallah, Army Radio reported.

French PM: Attacks in France, Israel show we are ‘in world war’

PARIS (JTA)—Listing terrorist attacks in Israel along with attacks by the Islamic State, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said they showed “we are in a world war.”

Valls made the statement Monday at a Paris hotel in an address before approximately 350 listeners, mostly from the Jewish community, during an event organized by CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

In explaining the reasons for the existence of a terrorist threat in France, he noted “upheaval in the Arab world” and “the reality in certain neighborhoods in France, where young people are being radicalized.”

“There are more and more terrorist attacks all over the world. In France, Burkina Faso, in Jakarta, in Israel, it keeps happening and it shows we need to learn to live with it,” Valls said.  “The authorities are doing all they can to stop the attackers, but some threats materialize. Still, we need to live, go to the cinema and to concerts, but also be prepared for the repeat of such attacks.”

Asked whether the government was doing enough to protect French Jews from attacks following the slaying of four in January 2015 at a kosher supermarket, Valls said: “Yes, we are doing 100 percent, employing all measures, and we will continue to do so, but the risk is not negligible.”

Valls condemned former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, who last year said Valls is “under Jewish influence” because of his wife.

“It is anti-Semitism of the worst kind,” Valls said of Dumas, “and certain compulsive anti-Semites act on the fact that my wife is Jewish.”

In 2011, Valls said his marriage to Anne Gravoin connected him “in an eternal way” to Israel and the Jewish people.

Valls, a Socialist who became prime minister in 2014 after a two-year stint as interior minister, enjoys considerable popularity among French Jews for his outspokenness against anti-Semitism and his rejection of attempts to boycott or isolate Israel, including through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. He has been criticized for his stance.

CRIF President Roger Cukierman thanked Valls for appearing at the event.

“On a number of occasions, you said very powerful things: That anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, that France without its Jews is no longer France,” Cukierman said. “This makes you a dear politician.”

Swiss Jews dismiss concerns over construction near Jewish cemetery

(JTA)—Swiss Jews dismissed concerns raised by Satmar rabbis in New York about construction work performed on a Zurich building that borders a Jewish cemetery.

The approval of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities of construction at the Museum for Modern Art followed protests by the Satmar-affiliated United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn that said the project involved “plans to exhume a Medieval Jewish cemetery,” leading to its “destruction.”

David Niederman, the president of the union and a prominent leader of the Satmar branch—a large, isolationist stream of haredi Judaism with a strong presence in New York and London—said hundreds would rally Monday at United Nations headquarters in New York to protest the construction.

“Jewish communities appealed to halt the ongoing desecration of the cemetery,” he wrote in a statement Sunday.

But Jonathan Kreutner, general secretary of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, told JTA on Monday that the communities his organization represents “do not share these concerns at all” regarding the medieval cemetery, which is no longer in use.

Kreutner added that the federation saw “no reason to protest” because the three Orthodox communities of Switzerland agreed with the city to take steps “according to the halachah,” Orthodox Jewish religious law, “if remains of Jewish people will be found at the construction site; which is not even clear at the moment.”

He added: “For us, everything is in good local Jewish hands and we do not need advice from Jewish groups abroad.”

Halachah prohibits disturbing or otherwise manipulating the remains of Jews, except in special circumstances.


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