Shorts: Mideast

Suicides are half of IDF fatalities

jerusalem (jps) | The army has issued tighter restrictions on soldiers’ weapons because 33 soldiers committed suicide this year, an Israeli Defense Forces official said last week.

Soldiers in noncombat units will no longer be armed when on leave as part of the army’s efforts to reduce the availability of weapons to soldiers, Brig. Gen. Avi Zimer told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

He added that the army was also seeking to increase awareness of suicidal issues and educate soldiers on the dangers of mental distress.

Zimer gave the information as part of the IDF’s annual fatalities report. The number of suicides accounted for half of the 66 fatalities in the 2005 report, an increase from 28 fatalities in 2004.

Assassin’s brother barred from army

jerusalem (jta) | A brother of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin was barred from mandatory military service in Israel.

Amitai Amir, whose elder brother Yigal is serving a life sentence for shooting the Israeli prime minister in 1995, was to have been conscripted this winter for the standard three years of national service, but he was blacklisted by the military after making radical comments, security sources said this week.

During the recent 10th anniversary of the Rabin assassination, Amitai Amir was shown on Israeli television making light of the slaying and of Jewish terrorist attacks against Arabs.

Another of Amir’s younger brothers, Sagiv, successfully completed military service as an infantry sniper.

Israeli tourism rises sharply

jerusalem (ynet) | In the first six months of 2005, the number of tourists visiting Israel for the first time was 328,000, a 73 percent increase over last year’s figure of 190,000.

During the first half of this year, the number of tourists coming to Israel for touring and sightseeing doubled from 75,000 to 156,000. Revenues from incoming tourism were $1.1 billion, a 23 percent increase over the same period last year.

These figures come from a Ministry of Tourism survey published this week.

West Bank building approved

jerusalem (ap) | Israel has approved construction of hundreds of homes in West Bank settlements, the Defense Ministry said last week, confirming what would be a violation of the U.S.-backed peace plan.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz approved the new settlement homes recently, a defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mofaz made the decision shortly before leaving the hard-line Likud Party to join Sharon’s new centrist party, Kadima.

The Yediot Achronot daily said Mofaz initially approved the housing to shore up support within Likud at a time when he was seeking party leadership.

Beauty queen joins Knesset

jerusalem (jps) | Pnina Rosenblum ascended the Knesset podium to be sworn in as the 19th female Knesset memeber last week. The former model and cosmetics queen took the Knesset seat that she has sought for nearly eight years.

Rosenblum replaced Knesset memeber Tzahi Hanegbi, who resigned from his seat to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Kadima Party.

Rumors swirled that Rosenblum, who has hesitated to announce her Likud affiliation, may soon join Hanegbi.

“I will join whichever party grants me a greater chance of being re-elected,” Rosenblum said. “I am not planning on only being an MK for three months.”

In 1983, Rosenblum participated in a preliminary round of the Eurovision song contest with what was to become her hit single, “Always a Woman.”