Shorts: Mideast

Barghouti to be taken out of solitary confinement

jerusalem (jps) | Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti will be transferred from solitary confinement to a prison where he will share a cell with other inmates, Yaakov Ganot, head of Israel’s Prisons Service, decided this week.

The surprise move came less than a week ahead of Palestinian elections.

Barghouti has been held in a prison near Beersheva since being convicted in May of involvement in four terror attacks that claimed the lives of five civilians.

Danger in the skies

jerusalem (jta) | Palestinians have smuggled five anti-aircraft missiles into the Gaza Strip, an Israeli security chief said.

Shin Bet head Avi Dichter told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week that the terrorists brought the Soviet-era Strella missiles into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt. He warned against giving up control of the flashpoint border zone.

With their maximum range of around two miles, the heat-seeking Strellas do not pose a threat to Israeli passenger jets but could endanger military aircraft operating over Gaza.

Last month, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said some Palestinian terrorist groups were believed to be planning to shoot down Israeli cropdusters across the Gaza boundary to escalate the conflict.

Arabs eye the bomb

jerusalem (jta) | Israel suspects one of its Arab neighbors has obtained components for nuclear weapons.

The Jerusalem Post quoted an Israeli military source as saying that either Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia has the potential to make a “significant nuclear leap” after dealing with A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani expert on weapons of mass destruction. The source would not provide further details, but said Arab terrorist groups also are believed to be seeking the bomb.

Khan’s international network was exposed last year and linked to the Iranian nuclear program, but there has been no published evidence of Arab regimes also availing themselves of his services.

Israel buses Palestinian pilgrims to Egypt

jerusalem (jta) | The Israeli army began busing Palestinians pilgrims to Egypt, the first stage of their religious journey to the Saudi city of Mecca.

Some 800 Palestinians pilgrims were transported in Israel Defense Forces buses because a Hamas bombing last month damaged the Israeli side of the crossing between Gaza and Egypt, The Associated Press reported.

The army said it had made preparations to bus 4,500 Palestinians to Egypt by Friday, after which they will board flights for Saudi Arabia.

The hajj, or pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca, takes place annually, drawing hundreds of thousands of Muslims. It is scheduled this year for Jan. 22.

Technion’s anthrax drug ‘breakthrough’

jerusalem (jps) | The world’s first substance to kill anthrax and neutralize its toxin has been developed by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The new family of antibiotics, created by chemically modifying an existing antibiotic, targets both the deadly bacteria and its toxin released into the bloodstream of the victim.

Professor Timor Baasov of the chemistry faculty, along with Professor Chi-Huey Wong of the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, Calif., developed the material, which they said would be the basis for a future drug against the bacteriological weapon of anthrax. The journal in which the article was published called the synthetic drug a “double blow” and “knockout” against anthrax.

Better late than never for nonagenarians

jerusalem (jta) | Describing making aliyah as the realization of a lifelong dream, two New Jersey sisters in their 90s have immigrated to Israel.

Irma Haas, 97, and Hilde Meyer, 94, both Holocaust survivors, arrived in Israel this week as part of a group of 250 immigrants brought by the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Some 3,000 North American Jews have moved to Israel this year, the most in 21 years.

Farewell, foie gras

jerusalem (jta) | Israeli geese farmers were given three months to stop force-feeding their livestock, a step in making foie gras.

This week, the Knesset’s Education and Culture Committee upheld a High Court of Justice ban, as of April 1, on the controversial practice of force-feeding geese.

The decision was a triumph for animal-rights activists and a snub to the Agriculture Ministry, which had argued that a humane method of feeding could be devised.

Double trouble

jerusalem (jta) | An Israeli lawmaker had his license suspended for driving at more than twice the speed limit.

David Azoulai of the Shas Party was clocked doing 145 miles per hour on the Trans-Israel Highway on Jan. 1, police said.

His license was suspended for 30 days and he may face criminal charges. The speed limit on the highway is 69 miles per hour.

Poland wants to extradite Jewish man

jerusalem (jta) | Poland again asked Israel to extradite a man accused of retaliatory acts against Nazis after World War II. Polish prosecutors say they have amassed more evidence against Solomon Morel, a Jew who is accused of brutality at a postwar labor camp in southern Poland. Israeli officials were examining the request, according to England’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. Israel has refused Poland’s prior requests.

Morel, who fled to Israel from Poland in 1994 and lives in hiding in Tel Aviv, was imprisoned in Auschwitz as a young man.

Peace message from Ankara

jerusalem (jta) | Turkey has urged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace talks.

“We don’t want to see any terrorist attacks, any suicide bombings, and on the other side, there are so many people lost on the Palestinian side,” Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told Israel’s Channel Two television this week during a visit to Jerusalem, the highest-level contact between the two countries in a year.

“It is time to talk about peace. It is time to talk about how we contribute to peace,” Gul said. “Turkey has a traditional link with both sides.” Turkey is Israel’s closest Middle East ally, a link that has cost Turkey support in the Arab world.

The current government in Ankara has Islamist roots and last year angered Jerusalem by accusing it of “state terrorism” toward the Palestinians. Gul’s visit was seen as a Turkish bid to restore ties with Israel and, by extension, with the United States.

Reactor hits TV screens

jerusalem (jta) | An Israeli television station has obtained the first-ever footage of the Dimona nuclear reactor. Channel Ten said Monday that the footage did not show military facilities at the top-secret desert installation, only technicians at leisure and a high school at the site.

But the tape, which was to be broadcast this week, was unprecedented because it was cleared by military censors who previously had barred any sort of press access to the reactor.

The Defense Ministry denied that the move marked a change in the government’s policy of neither confirming nor denying that Israel has nuclear weapons.