Mideast Report

JERUSALEM (JTA) — All Israeli state schools, including those in Arab areas, will be required to teach Torah studies, according to a new law that religious parties pushed through a virtually empty Knesset.

Orthodox Rabbi Michael Melchior, minister for Israeli society and world Jewish communities, said this week that decisions like this should be made after a dialogue and that quickie legislation on such matters only "distances people" from Judaism.

Israel cuts defense for Jewish settlers

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has slashed by 82 percent the budget for protecting Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The Prime Minister's Office said the cut from $34.5 million to $6.2 million was made "because the entire Defense Ministry budget was cut."

A spokesman for the Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, criticized the move. "Somebody up there in the government is depending too much on luck," the spokesman said.

Arab sentenced in double murder

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli court sentenced an Israeli Arab to two consecutive life terms for the murder last August of two Jewish hikers.

Abdullah Igbariya, 21, pleaded guilty to stabbing to death Sharon Steinmetz, 21, and Yehiel Funfter, 26, after having decided "to kill Jews."

The court found that Igbariya stabbed the couple "repeatedly all over their bodies until they died," stripped them of their belongings and hid the corpses near a stream. The court said he expressed no regret for his actions, which were part of a plot to steal their car for a bomb attack inside Israel.

Israel, Palestinians prevent Hamas attack

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel and the Palestinian Authority discovered a Hamas plan to blow up a large apartment building in Jerusalem, in a similar style to attacks in Russia last year.

The discovery, which was announced this week, was made during a recent crackdown on Hamas. Among the dozens arrested are militants believed responsible for recent attacks in the Israeli cities of Netanya and Hadera.

Police reached a breakthrough in the investigation when they arrested a Palestinian near Netanya as he was purchasing a yarmulke, apparently to be used as a disguise in a future attack.

Activists say visit from pope isn't green

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel's preparations for a papal pilgrimage are destroying an area in the Galilee, Israeli environmentalists charged this week.

They said dozens of bulldozers are ripping up a mountain to construct a parking lot for pilgrims and a large amphitheater in which Pope John Paul II will conduct Mass during his visit next month.

Palestinians riot in Nablus, Ramallah

JERUSALEM (JPS) — Palestinian youths led violent demonstrations Tuesday on the outskirts of Ramallah and Nablus to protest against the Israeli bombing of Lebanon and the stalemate in the peace process.

The demonstrators clashed with the Israel Defense Force and Palestinian police. In Nablus, students belonging to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine burned American and Israeli flags.

Palestinian sources said the riots were a message that without any progress on the Palestinian track, the situation on the ground may explode.

Egyptian leader supports Hezbollah

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Egypt's president visited Lebanon last week, where he voiced support for Hezbollah gunmen trying to oust Israeli soldiers from the country.

President Hosni Mubarak became the first Egyptian leader to visit the Lebanese capital since Lebanon won independence in 1943. Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy later told Israel Radio that Mubarak's remarks on Saturday were "worrisome."

Daylight savings time upsets religious Jews

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Orthodox lawmakers in Israel vowed to block plans by the interior minister to extend daylight savings time by several weeks.

Rescinding a tradition of accommodating the prayer schedule of religious Jews, Natan Sharansky said last week that "summer time" would be extended by 37 days this year.

Secular Israelis applauded the move, which Sharansky took in an effort to cut down on auto accidents caused when rush hour occurs after sundown.