Shorts: Mideast

Sharon soars in latest polls

jerusalem (jta) | Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party will sweep the upcoming Israeli election, a new poll says.

A Yediot Achronot survey this week showed that Kadima, which Sharon formed after quitting the ruling Likud Party last month, is expected to take 41 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the March national election.

The prime minister’s standing has been boosted by several high-profile Likud defections, most recently by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Labor leader promises peace

jerusalem (jta) | Ariel Sharon’s top challenger for the Israeli premiership pledged to secure a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“I will act to reach a permanent settlement between Israel and the Palestinians with the utmost speed,” the new Labor Party leader, Amir Peretz, said last week. “By the end of our term, a permanent settlement must be behind us.”

Polls show Labor under Peretz trailing Sharon’s new Kadima Party in the upcoming March 28 general election. But political analysts speculate that Peretz, a former trade union chief, would be boosted should he manage to refocus the Israeli electorate on the country’s economic woes.

Security Council condemns Iran

new york (jta) | The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned anti-Israel calls by Iran’s president.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said Israel should be destroyed, recently called for Israel to be moved to Europe, and denied the Holocaust.

“The members of the Security Council reaffirm the rights and obligations of the state of Israel as a full and long-standing member of the United Nations,” the council said in a statement last week.

Ahmadinejad, who in October called for Israel’s destruction, made the remarks about moving Israel to Europe on a recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Reuters reported, citing Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

“If the Europeans are honest, they should give some of their provinces in Europe — like in Germany, Austria or other countries — to the Zionists, and the Zionists can establish their state in Europe. You offer part of Europe and we will support it,” Ahmadinejad said.

This week, he later suggested moving Israel to Alaska, according to the Jerusalem Post.

E.U. contacts with Hezbollah, Hamas slammed

jerusalem (jta) | Israel accused the European Union of illegal contacts with Hamas and Hezbollah.

A foreign ministry document leaked to the media this week deplored “certain states” in Europe that had sought political engagement with the Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups.

“This policy has entailed official contacts with Hamas and/or Hezbollah representatives as well as refraining from acting aggressively against their involvement in terrorism,” the memorandum said.

Security barrier behind schedule

jerusalem (jta) | Israel’s West Bank security barrier will be completed by the end of 2006, officials said.

Netzach Mashiach, the government official overseeing the project, last week informed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the new target date, months behind previous projections.

Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, the army’s deputy chief of staff, said just 171 miles of the 474-mile route are complete. Officials blame the lag on High Court of Justice orders to reroute the fence in places where it was found to cause undue hardship to Palestinians.

Three-fourths of Gaza evacuees out of work

jerusalem (jps) | About 78 percent of Gaza evacuees are out of work, according to a recent study by the industry ministry.

According to the study, whose data was collected three months after the August evacuation, only about 22 percent of the 85 percent who had held salaried jobs prior to the evacuation are currently employed.

The study surveyed 600 to 700 families, collecting data on 1,250 wage-earners. From that number, percentages for the 2,300 wage-earners in Gaza were estimated.

Palestinians to punish players for ‘peace’ match

jerusalem (jta) | The Palestinian Football Association intends to punish soccer players who played on a joint “peace team” with Israelis.

Last week’s game was greeted internationally as a sign that Israelis and Palestinians could cooperate for peace.

“The Palestinian F.A. will form a committee to investigate the players who participated in the match” and “everyone involved will be punished,” Reuters quoted Jamal Zaqout, a senior association official, as saying.

“We act in accordance with the attitude of our people, who are against normalization” of relations with Israel “before the end of the occupation.”