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MOSCOW (JTA) — In a surprising move, the leader of Russia's Communist Party sent Rosh Hashanah greetings to the country's Jews.

In his letter, read during this week's services at the Moscow Choral Synagogue, Gennady Zyuganov noted the Jewish contribution to the defeat of Germany during World War II and praised Jewish participation in Russian culture. He also condemned anti-Semitism in Russia which, according to Zyuganov, is a "result of the policy of the ruling regime."

On several occasions in the past, Zyuganov has made thinly veiled racist and anti-Semitic statements, repeatedly saying that two previous Russian cabinets were being controlled by ethnically non-Russian politicians.

Some analysts said this week's reaching out to the Jewish community is a sign that the Communist leader is trying to change his image. Zyuganov, who placed second in the 1996 presidential elections, is expected to run for the same office in the next round of elections, which are scheduled for 2000.

Jewish leaders noted that besides Zyuganov, the only other top politician in Russia who extended holiday greetings to the Jewish community was President Boris Yeltsin.

Meanwhile, some 11,000 Jews attended services at Moscow synagogues and a concert hall on the first night of Rosh Hashanah in what was believed to be the largest turnout for services in the Russian capital since the fall of communism.

London ad magnates open Orthodox shul

LONDON (JTA) — Two brothers known here for the advertising firm they founded are now applying their creative talents to a new subject: Jewish outreach.

Charles and Maurice Saatchi, whose campaigns helped former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher win three elections, have launched a full-blown advertising campaign for their own, brand-name Orthodox synagogue.

The Saatchi Synagogue is due to open its doors in a predominantly Jewish district of northwest London in October.

The first advertisement for the synagogue, which appeared in the Jewish media last weekend, depicts a piece of gefilte fish with the slogan: "At our new synagogue, this is the only thing that gets rammed down someone's throat."

Subsequent advertising campaigns in London's subways will be aimed at Jewish travelers.

The Saatchi brothers, who are not known to be observant, say the establishment of the synagogue is, in part, an act of atonement to their parents, who were upset that their sons married non-Jewish partners.

Anti-nuclear group makes plea to Israel

OSLO (JTA) — A Norwegian anti-nuclear group said this week it submitted a petition with one million signatures to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding the release of Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.

Vanunu, 43, a former nuclear technician at the Dimona nuclear plant in southern Israel, has served 12 years of an 18-year sentence for disclosing Israel's nuclear weapons capabilities to The Times of London.

German media say U.S. troops stole gold

BERLIN (JTA) — U.S. soldiers stole Nazi gold that had been looted from Holocaust victims, a German newspaper reported last week.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung cited a 1950 report by Bavarian police that advancing American troops located the gold near the end of the war and that it subsequently disappeared.

The troops arrested and questioned Nazi officers until they found the gold, which had been brought to a hiding place near Munich from the central bank in Berlin, the report said.

Swiss insurer finds few Jewish policies

GENEVA (JTA) — A Swiss insurance firm said it had found fewer than 20 insurance policies that could have been taken out by Holocaust victims. Officials for Baloise Insurance Group, Switzerland's fifth-largest insurer, said the company is willing to settle any claims, provided there is sufficient evidence.

Baloise is one of 16 European insurers facing class-action lawsuits of $1 billion each for refusing to pay out on policies taken out by Jews killed during the Holocaust.

Canadian court rules against Jewish officer

TORONTO (JTA) — A Canadian court ruled last week that the country's military was within its rights to turn down a Jewish naval officer who wanted to serve in the Middle East during the 1991 Gulf War.

Andrew Liebmann had contended that he was the victim of religious discrimination when he was rejected for an important position in the Gulf because he was Jewish. Military officials had argued that his religious background might have caused friction during dealings with Arab officials.