Shorts: Mideast

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Sukkot record at Western Wall

jerusalem (jta) | A record number of Jews turned out for Sukkot services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

An estimated 65,000 worshipers attended prayers, which included the traditional blessing of the Kohanim, on Monday, Oct. 9 at Judaism’s most important site.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, director of the Western Wall and Holy Places Authority, described it as the largest turnout in a quarter-century.

Assad: Israel too weak for peace

jerusalem (jta) | Syria’s president casts doubt on Israel’s ability to enter peace talks with his country.

Bashar Assad said in a BBC interview broadcast late Monday, Oct. 9 that while he saw the aftermath of the Lebanon war as an opportunity for peace talks with Israel, “that doesn’t mean you have the environment to achieve it.

“We don’t know if this government is strong enough to move toward peace,” Assad added, alluding to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s falling popularity.

He also accused the United States of lacking the “vision” needed to engage Syria.

Since the end of the Lebanon war, Assad has made several statements suggesting a willingness to resume peace talks with Israel that broke down in 2000, but also threatening to go to war unless Damascus regains control of all of the Golan Heights.

Mohels cut and run after illegal circumcisions

jerusalem (jps) | A group of haredi extremists suspected of being part of a network that carried out illegal circumcisions on dozens of Russian teenagers in Jerusalem has fled the country and remains at large, police said Monday, Oct. 9.

The haredi zealots allegedly performed illicit circumcisions on the teenaged youths in a private apartment in exchange for presents and without the consent of their parents.

The affair came to light after the mother of one of the teens discovered a videotape in her son’s room on which the illegal circumcision procedure was documented.

Jerusalem police subsequently raided a city apartment where the suspects allegedly carried out the circumcisions, but the suspects had already fled the country.

Orthodox maternity ward opens in Israel

jerusalem (jta) | An Israeli hospital unveiled a maternity ward designed for fervently religious Jews.

The five new delivery rooms at Jerusalem’s Bikur Cholim Hospital feature a special partition which allows the birthing mother to see her husband sitting beside her, but not for him to see her.

This provision satisfies Orthodox requirements of modesty.

The rooms also have the options of stands for women’s wigs and piped-in Chassidic music.

According to the newspaper, the renovations cost Bikur Cholim some $1.3 million, most of it donated.