Shorts: Mideast

Israel gives $54 million to the Palestinians

jerusalem (ap) | Israel agreed to make a crucial payment of $54 million in tax and customs revenues to the Palestinians, but officials said future transfers will be halted once Hamas militants form the next Palestinian government.

Israel collects millions of dollars in taxes and customs duties for the Palestinians, transferring the funds to the Palestinian Authority each month. Israel delayed the most recent payment last week to protest Hamas’ victory in Palestinian legislative elections, deepening a financial crisis for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

The money turned over by the Israelis, collected under existing Israeli-Palestinian accords, pays for a large chunk of the Palestinian Authority’s payroll of 137,000 government workers.

Iran newspaper launches Holocaust cartoon contest

tehran (ap) | Iran’s biggest-selling newspaper has chosen to tackle the West’s ideals of “freedom of expression” by launching a competition to find the 12 “best” cartoons about the Holocaust.

Farid Mortazavi, graphics editor for Tehran’s Hamshahri newspaper, said that the deliberately inflammatory contest would test out how committed Europeans were to the concept of freedom of expression.

“The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let’s see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons,” he said.

Flemming Rose, the Danish editor behind the publication of Muhammad caricatures, said this week that he is trying to coordinate with Hamshahri in order to run the cartoons the same day as the Iranian newspaper.

Minister faces corruption charges

jerusalem (ap) | Israel’s attorney general decided last week to charge Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegbi on four criminal counts of fraud, bribery and perjury, the Justice Ministry announced.

The charges relate to Hanegbi’s term as environment minister between 2001 and 2003, when he allegedly improperly appointed political allies to important jobs.

Charges will not be formally filed until Hanegbi has a chance for a hearing before Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, standard practice in cases involving senior officials.

Hanegbi was a top official in the hard-line Likud, but bolted in December to follow Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Kadima Party. Hanegbi had been considered a leading candidate for a high-ranking position in the next government.

Chabad’s ‘770’ house to appear on Israeli stamp

jerusalem (jps) | A new Israeli stamp depicting the red-brick Brooklyn house of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, will be released soon by the Israel Postal Authority’s Philatelic Service.

The New York house — known widely by its address, 770 Eastern Parkway — is accompanied on the face of the stamp by two Jewish symbols: Shabbat candles and tefillin.

Many Orthodox and haredi groups have opposed dedicating postage stamps to the memory of great rabbis and sages because the glue on the back is licked to affix them to envelopes — an act of disrespect. But showing “770” avoids the problem that would exist if the rebbe’s face were shown on the stamp.

Sharon gets feeding tube

jerusalem (ap) | Doctors inserted a feeding tube in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stomach last week, according to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, where he is being treated for a massive stroke.

Sharon, 77, has been in a coma since he suffered a stroke Jan. 4, and the stomach procedure was further evidence that he is likely to be incapacitated for a long time.

Long-term care specialists and a U.S. authority on comatose patients have examined Sharon in recent days. Experts say his chances of regaining consciousness or a meaningful level of activity are slim.

IDF llamas to the rescue

jerusalem (ap) | It can’t shoot and it can barely follow orders, but it’s the newest recruit to the Israeli military: the llama.

According to Yediot Achronot, two elite units recently began using llamas in exercises and operations on Israel’s northern border to carry heavy loads through difficult terrain.

The military tried using mules for similar tasks, but although they could carry heavier loads than the llamas, they behaved badly — at one point staging a “mutiny” and fleeing, the newspaper said.