Shorts: Mideast

Suspected spy praises life in Israel

An Egyptian accused of spying for Israel praised the Jewish state for its advanced technology this week and claimed documents he passed on were so outdated they posed no threat to Egypt’s security.

Mohammed Sayed Saber, 35, a nuclear engineer with Egypt’s atomic agency, has been charged with stealing secret documents and giving them to the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, in exchange for $17,000, with the aim to harm Egyptian national security.

At the start of his trial Tuesday, May 15, Saber told the judge, “I don’t hide my admiration of Israel. It has reached a very high technological and scientific level. To seek to benefit from Israel scientific expertise is not shameful or wrong.”

Saber, who faces up to 25 years in prison, did not enter a plea Tuesday. — jps

Psychologists sent to help Sderot cope

The Welfare and Social Services Ministry has dispatched 60 psychologists and social workers to Sderot to help residents cope with the continued Kassam rocket barrages on their city. More than 24 Kassam rockets have been fired by Hamas on southern Israel since Tuesday, May 15. The government has begun to evacuate dozens of Sderot residents, taking them to Jerusalem.

Israel’s military, which is retaliating with rocket fires into Gaza, believes that Hamas is attempting to haul Israel into a large-scale operation in order to unify Palestinian factions. Violence between Hamas and its rival Fatah has increased recently. — jps

Olmert, Abdullah meet on peace

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in a meeting this week in Aqaba with Jordanian King Abdullah ll, denied that Israel is still building settlements in West Bank. The king called on Olmert to set a timetable for making a deal with the Palestinians, urging the use of the Arab peace initiative that offers Israel recognition in return for land.

During the May 15 meeting, Olmert reiterated Israel’s readiness to discuss the proposed initiative, keeping in line with past statements welcoming the plan as a good starting point with the understanding that some changes would have to be made.

“Israel is not building new settlements, nor is it expanding the established settlements beyond their existing borders,” Olmert said. —

Darfur refugees may

get $5 million in aid

Israel is planning to donate $5 million to Darfur refugees. The aid recommendations must be approved by Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitch and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

The report suggested giving $4 million to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the U.N. Children’s Fund, the World Food Program and the Red Cross; sending $800,000 of medicine and water-purifying supplies to refugee camps; and donating $150,000 to IsraAID. Last year’s allocation for Dafur was $200,000. — jta

Young Jews abandon Jerusalem

Continuing a 30-year trend, thousands of young Israelis are leaving Jerusalem each year in search of better job opportunities and more affordable housing, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Last year 17,300 Israelis left Jerusalem, compared to 10,900 who came to the city. Nearly half who left last year were 20 to 34. Most moved to suburban Jerusalem communities or nearby cities, including 1,450 who moved to the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim; 1,411 who moved to Beit Shemesh; 1,019 who moved to Modi’in and Maccabim; and 990 who moved to Modi’in Ilit. An additional 1,664 former Jerusalem residents moved to Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem remains Israel’s largest city with nearly 740,000 residents, more than half of them Jewish residents and one-third Arab residents. The city also has nearly 15,000 Christian residents and 9,000 people not identified by religion. — jps

Syria builds on grave

of spy Eli Cohen

Syria has erected buildings and created a park over the grave of Eli Cohen, a Mossad agent who was murdered 42 years ago in Damascus after being exposed as an Israeli spy. “He is buried in the area of al-Maza in Damascus, and over his grave are houses, roads and parks,” said Monjer Motsley, who worked with former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad. “Nobody is able to reach him.”

Motsley said he spoke with Cohen after he was exposed as a spy and arrested. According to Motsley, Cohen expressed remorse for his acts. Motsley said the former Syrian president was suspicious of Cohen, and was not convinced by the cover story that Mossad agents had created for him — that he was a businessman who immigrated to Argentina. — jps

Bill would make Sundays a day off

A Knesset member has introduced a bill that would make Sundays a day off. According to the bill, Israelis would begin their weekend on Friday afternoon, and return to work on Monday morning. For years Israelis have treated Sunday as a regular business day.

Religious Party member Zevulun Orlev, who introduced the bill, also suggested that Shabbat should not entirely prohibit commercial and industrial activities, public services or state services. The bill also calls for public transportation to run on Shabbat, but only if it doesn’t disturb the religious sector. — jps

Israeli wins Eurovision — sort of

An Israeli journalist won an “alternative” Eurovision song contest. Yediot Achronot reported that Raz Shechnik, its correspondent covering last week’s songfest in Helsinki, took first place at a special contest between members of the press.

The reception for Shechnik’s “winning” performance of the 1980s classic “Tainted Love” stood in contrast to that of Israel’s official entry to Eurovision, “Push the Button,” which did not make it past the semifinal qualifying round. There had been controversy in Europe over references to nuclear war made in “Push the Button,” which was performed by Israeli hip-hop band Teapacks. — jta