Shorts: Mideast

Omri Sharon gets jail term

jerusalem (jta) | The son of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was sentenced to nine months in prison for campaign-funding violations in his father’s 1999 race for Likud Party leadership.

Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday, Feb. 14,sentenced Omri Sharon to another nine months of suspended imprisonment and fined him $65,000.

Because of the condition of the prime minister, who has been in a coma since a Jan. 4 stroke, the start of Omri Sharon’s prison term was postponed by six months to Aug. 31.

Settlers deface mosque

nebe elias, west bank (ap) | Graffiti insulting Muhammad was found Sunday, Jan. 12 scrawled on a West Bank mosque, touching off a protest in which three Palestinians were shot by Israeli soldiers.

The offensive slogans, which equated Muhammad with a pig, heightened tensions already inflamed by Danish caricatures of Islam’s founder.

Any depiction of Muhammad is considered sacrilegious, but one cartoon showing the prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban has been particularly incendiary.

Abbas gets new powers

jerusalem (jta/ap) | The outgoing Palestinian Authority Parliament gave Mahmoud Abbas extensive new powers this week.

In its final session, lawmakers gave the authority’s president power to appoint a constitutional court that would arbitrate disputes between him and a Hamas-led government.

The new powers could give Abbas the ability to cancel any law passed by the new Hamas government.

Lawmakers from Hamas, which recently won Palestinian elections, could overturn the legislation with a two-thirds majority.

“I think this session was illegal. It is a kind of bloodless coup,” said Abdel Aziz Duak, an incoming Hamas legislator.

Report: settler population up 7,000

jerusalem (jps) | More than 9,000 Jewish settlers were evacuated from northern Samaria and the Gaza Strip last year, but the settler population grew by at least 7,000, according to figures presented recently by Peace Now’s settlement watch project.

“We estimate that the settler population increased to some 250,000 people,” said project director Dror Etkes.

While the government lists 52 illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria, Etkes argued that he had discovered 102. He added that in 33 of them, construction of permanent structures was undertaken in 2005.

Syria: Israel behind bird flu

damascus (ynet) | The state-run Syrian daily al Thawra lately hinted that Israel developed the bird flu virus to harm the genes of its Arab neighbors.

An article published by the newspaper argues that Israel spread the virus in the Far East to mislead the world.

The newspaper backed its suspicions by citing a 1998 report in the London Sunday Times that Israel is developing a biological “ethnic bomb” that would kill Arabs and not Jews.

Baseball league in Israel?

jerusalem (jta) | Baseball fans are pushing to build the sport’s popularity in Israel.

A plan launched last week by the Israel Baseball League includes building community baseball fields throughout Israel, recruiting Jewish Americans to play on the 2008 Israeli Women’s Softball Olympics team and establishing a summer baseball camp that will open in Israel this July.

The association hopes to eventually form a professional league in Israel.