Shorts: Mideast

Religious party quits Sharon coalition

jerusalem (jta) | The National Religious Party quit Israel’s government coalition, but Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stayed.

NRP representatives decided on the walkout Monday, Nov. 8, after their two-week ultimatum demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hold a referendum on his Gaza withdrawal plan expired.

But Netanyahu, a Likud Party member who also had threatened to quit after the Knesset passed the plan, backed down.

A fellow Likud “rebel,” Education Minister Limor Livnat, withdrew her walkout threat last week.

Losing the NRP weakens the government, but Sharon has been in talks with potential replacements, including Labor, the largest opposition party.

Barak seeks a comeback

jerusalem (jta) | Ehud Barak announced that he is returning to Israeli politics.

“I intend to run for the leadership of the Labor Party and lead it back to power,” Israel Radio quoted Barak as telling Shimon Peres, the current Labor chief, on Thursday, Nov. 4.

Barak, 62, a former prime minister and military chief of staff, withdrew from politics after losing the premiership to Ariel Sharon in 2001. His term in the top office is remembered for Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon and for attempts to reach peace agreements with Syria and the Palestinian Authority. Detractors accuse Barak of ruining Labor with his governing style.

Top Gaza general resigns commission

jerusalem (jta) | The commander of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip quit after being grilled over media leaks.

Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai, who resigned his commission Nov. 4, complained of a witch hunt in the military’s Southern Command. Zakai had been questioned by military police over a Ha’aretz report last month that cited top military sources as saying they disagreed with a Gaza sweep ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Ha’aretz said Zakai was not its source.

Brother bombers turn themselves in

jerusalem (jta) | Two Palestinian brothers who allegedly planned to carry out a suicide attack turned themselves in to Israeli forces.

The military allowed publication Nov. 8 of the surrender, saying the would-be terrorists from the Ein Beit Ilma refugee camp in the West Bank cited family pressure as the reason for their change of heart.

Egypt charges five in Sinai attacks

jerusalem (jta) | Egypt charged five of its citizens in last month’s terrorist bombings of Sinai desert hotels. The three car bombs on Oct. 7 killed 34 people, including 12 Israelis, in simultaneous attacks.

The five, charged with murder and terrorism, are among eight Egyptians and a Palestinian arrested after the attacks. An Egyptian attacker and a Palestinian attacker — the apparent mastermind — were killed in the bombings. Two other suspected attackers remain at large.

A quiet disengagement?

jerusalem (jta) | Settlers in the Gaza Strip will agree to evacuation under Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal plan, an Israeli official said.

“The people of Gush Katif are different” from those in the West Bank “in terms of the antagonism they create,” Yonatan Bassi, head of the Disengagement Authority, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Nov. 9. “Their leadership is less rude, less confrontational, much quieter.”

Israeli security forces are bracing for confrontations if settlers resist the Israeli prime minister’s plan to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank next year, but Bassi said no one in Gaza would “go against the government” when the time comes.

Nonetheless, the 56-year-old father of six said he was under 24-hour protection after receiving death threats from right-wing extremists.

Buzz on the border

jerusalem (jta) | Hezbollah drones could be used for cross-border terror attacks, according to Israel’s military chief.

The Lebanese militia managed to launch a surveillance drone for a 10-minute flight over northern Israel on Monday, Nov. 8, worrying the top military brass in Tel Aviv.

On Tuesday, Nov. 9, Israel’s military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Hezbollah drone had a wingspan of 12 feet and could carry a payload of 90 pounds. Armed with a bomb, the drone could be used for kamikaze attacks on Israeli targets, Ya’aoln warned.

But the Nov. 8 drone is no longer a threat to Israel because it crashed off the Lebanese coast after its maiden flight, according to Israeli sources.

Close call for French

jerusalem (jta) | A Palestinian suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv market this month was intended for the French Embassy, Israeli officials believe. The Shin Bet on Tuesday, Nov. 9, issued results of its probe into the Nov. 1 attack that killed three people at the Carmel market, saying the original target was the nearby French mission.

It was not immediately clear why the teenaged terrorist from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine chose the market.

The Shin Bet said it had arrested two of the teen’s handlers in the West Bank city of Nablus, adding that he managed to slip into Israel using a journalist card. Israeli officials came in for international criticism during the intifada when they tried to restrict Palestinian access to journalist cards, saying terrorists used them to move around the country freely.

Poverty in Tel Aviv

jerusalem (jta) | About 20 percent of Tel Aviv children live below the poverty line, according to findings announced at a conference sponsored by the Los Angeles Jewish federation.

The conference on poverty and food insecurity, which brought together researchers and officials, was held last week in Tel Aviv.

The Los Angeles federation has been twinned with the city of Tel Aviv. Organizers said the cities came together to share information and search for solutions to rising poverty levels.