Shorts: Mideast

Olmert supports more withdrawals from West Bank

jerusalem (jta) | Ehud Olmert, who backed last year’s unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements, said Israel’s demographic survival would require further withdrawals from the West Bank.

And he hinted this week that Israel could carry out those withdrawals unilaterally.

In his first formal policy speech since assuming power after Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke, the acting prime minister said Tuesday, Jan. 24 that Israel was committed to the U.S.-led “road map” peace plan with the Palestinians.

“The choice between allowing Jews to live in all parts of the land of Israel and living in a state with a Jewish majority requires giving up parts of the land of Israel,” he said. “We cannot continue to control areas of the territories where most of the Palestinians live.”

Netanyahu backs land concessions

jerusalem (jta) | Benjamin Netanyahu said that as prime minister he would accept further territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

“In the framework of a peace accord, a government under my leadership would agree to make real territorial concessions, but will not compromise our security borders,” the Likud Party leader said in a policy speech this week.

“In any event, with or without an accord, we have no intention of returning to control or annexing Palestinian cities and population centers” already ceded to the Palestinian Authority, he said.

According to political analysts, Netanyahu is trying to soften the Likud’s hard-line image ahead of March 28 elections in Israel. Opinion polls show Likud trailing the ruling Kadima Party and the Labor Party in the race.

Rescue team

rushes off to Kenya

jerusalem (jta) | Israel sent a search-and-rescue team to the site of a Kenyan building collapse that has killed at least 14 people.

Eighty disaster and medical relief personnel took off Tuesday, Jan. 24 from Tel Aviv for Nairobi, where scores of people are believed to still be trapped in the rubble of a collapsed multistory building.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ordered the mission after receiving appeals from the Kenyan government to help in the disaster.

Peretz would keep

Jerusalem united

jerusalem (jta) | The leader of Israel’s Labor Party said he would keep Jerusalem united if elected prime minister.

“We will keep Jerusalem united and strong, with a Jewish majority and character,” Amir Peretz said this week at the first Labor conference since the party chose its candidate list for the general elections.

The statement left open the possibility that Labor would support ceding Arab neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority under a peace deal.

Israel privatizing

border security

jerusalem (ap) | Israel has begun the privatization of its border crossings with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, replacing soldiers with private security guards in an attempt to ease the crossing process for Palestinians, Defense Ministry spokeswoman Rachel Niedak-Ashkenazi said last week.

“We think that soldiers should not be there and working with Palestinian civilians,” Niedak-Ashkenazi said.

The ministry said the privatization “will contribute to the recovery of the Palestinian economy, which is not only a Palestinian interest but also American and Israeli.”

Assassin’s brother in deeper trouble

jerusalem (jta) | The brother of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin was convicted of threatening Ariel Sharon’s life.

Hagai Amir, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence for helping his brother, Yigal, shoot Rabin in 1995, was convicted this week of threatening the life of Israel’s current prime minister.

According to prosecutors, Amir told prison guards that he could arrange for Sharon to be killed “with one phone call.” His lawyers called the comments a “joke.”

Iran warns Israel not to attack

tehran, iran (ap) | Iran said last week that Israel would be making a “fatal mistake” if it takes military action against Tehran’s nuclear program and dismissed veiled threats from the Jewish state as a “childish game.”

Israel has said it will not accept a nuclear Iran and was preparing for the possible failure of diplomatic efforts.

While Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz stopped short of an outright threat of military action, he said Israel “must have the capability to defend itself … and this we are preparing.”