Shorts: Mideast

Row in Israel erupts over Harry Potter Sabbath launch

The figure responsible for Israel’s latest religious row is none other than Harry Potter.

The synchronized worldwide launch of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and last installment in the wildly popular series, falls at 2:01 a.m. local time this Saturday — on the Sabbath, when Israeli law requires most businesses to close.

With Israelis already clamoring for “Deathly Hallows,” many bookstores are planning to launch the book at the appointed hour. That has drawn fire from Orthodox Jewish lawmakers, including Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai, who threatened to fine any store that opens on Saturday. — ap

Agency shelters 58 Sudanese refugees

The Jewish Agency for Israel is temporarily housing 58 refugees from Sudan, many of them from the Darfur area, at the special request of the Prime Minister’s Office. The group, which had crossed into Israel through the Sinai, arrived at the Jewish Agency Ibim Absorption center located near Sderot, where they are receiving housing, food and medical care.

This group, which includes 24 children, made their way by foot from Sinai across the border and then to Beersheva.

“This is a humanitarian gesture to people in distress,” said Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski, explaining the Agency’s role in providing the assistance.

“It’s happy and sad,” said Soni Zinger, director of the center. “Happy because they are here and being looked after and enjoying themselves; sad, because their future is uncertain.”

Jews on ice

The first World Jewish Ice Hockey Tournament is being held in Metulla, Israel.

With outside temperatures reaching 90 degrees in Israel’s northernmost city, teams from the United States, France, Israel and Canada are competing on the ice at Metulla’s Canada Center, located just over the border from Lebanon.

In the first game, the Americans trounced the French, 9-4. Games continued all week, with the championship game on Friday, July 20. — jta

Jerusalem seeks relic’s return

Israel has asked Turkey for the loan of a 2,700-year-old Jewish relic.

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski’s office said he was in talks with Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan on the possibility of bringing a First Temple-era tablet held by the Archaeology Museum in Istanbul to Israel for a temporary display.

The tablet, which describes the construction of a Jerusalem water tunnel in the days of King Hezekiah, was discovered in the holy city in 1880 and claimed by the Ottoman regime. Lupoliansky offered to reciprocate for the tablet’s loan by building a monument to Turkish soldiers who were killed in then-Palestine during World War I. — jta

Interior minister eyes Law of Return

Israel’s new interior minister urged a major reform of immigration law.

Meir Sheetrit, who took over the Interior Ministry this month as part of a Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said current Israeli immigration policies are too porous and threaten the country’s Jewish majority.

Sheetrit complained that the “great majority” of recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union are not Jewish under Orthodox law. He laid part of the blame on the government for ceding responsibility for aliyah to semi-autonomous and pro-active groups like the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Sheetrit said aspiring Israeli citizens should be screened for criminal records and be able to demonstrate knowledge of the Jewish state. He also suggested that Israel stop working so hard to bring in immigrants. “I want to make Israel a country that it is good to live in, on whose doors many Jews will knock. We should not be pressuring Jews into coming,” he said. — jta