Shorts: Mideast

Kidnapped soldier turns 21 in captivity

Israelis marked the 21st birthday of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held for more than a year by Hamas-led gunmen in the Gaza Strip. Supporters of Shalit held a rally in Tel Aviv on Aug. 28, the conscript sergeant’s second birthday in Palestinian captivity, while newspapers and other media carried fresh coverage on his family’s ordeal.

Shalit’s father, Noam, said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not doing enough to recover his son from Hamas, which wants a prisoner exchange. Olmert has signaled willingness to bargain for Shalit’s return but has ruled out the lopsided swap demands made by Hamas so far. Shalit was abducted in a June 25, 2006 cross-border raid. Two of his comrades were killed in the incident. — jta

Israel Museum launches site for stolen works

The Israel Museum has launched an online catalog of works of art and Judaica looted during World War II and given to the museum after the war.

The property was originally given to the Bezalel National Museum, the Israel Museum’s predecessor, by the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization, which was charged with reclaiming stolen Jewish property. The works were subsequently moved to the Israel Museum in 1965, when it was founded.

“This is a major moral accomplishment for the state of Israel,” said Avraham Roet, a Holocaust survivor and head of the restitution organization. Roet said that this was the first time a Jewish museum was searching for heirs for artwork stolen in the Holocaust and given to Jewish organizations after the war. The new Web site provides instructions for requesting property restitution. The catalog is available at — jps

Sermon ‘misunderstood’

An influential Israeli rabbi’s comment that Israeli soldiers died in battle because they were not ritually observant Jews was misunderstood, according to a Cabinet minister.

Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the fervently religious Shas political movement, outraged bereaved relatives and lawmakers across the political spectrum when he said, “Is it any wonder that, heaven forbid, soldiers are killed in a war, when they don’t observe the Sabbath, don’t observe the Torah, don’t pray every day, don’t put on phylacteries every day?”

Yosef posed the question in a recent sermon, saying the Bible requires that only pious Jews go to war for their homeland.

On Tuesday, Aug. 28, Israeli media reported that Yosef was referring to soldiers from biblical times. Eli Yishai, a Cabinet minister and head of the Shas party, said Yosef was “misunderstood.” — ap

Israeli crematorium torched

Israel’s only crematorium was torched. Unknown arsonists set fire last week to an outdoor oven belonging to Alei Shalehet, the only Israeli mortuary to offer cremation as an alternative to burial. The attack took place hours after the crematorium’s previously secret location, on farmland outside Tel Aviv, was published in a fervently religious newspaper.

Alei Shalehet’s owner blamed zealots angered at the availability of cremation, which is against Jewish law, in Israel. Police had no immediate comment on the suspects. — jta

Egyptian actor faces boycott

A popular Egyptian actor faces a boycott in his homeland for appearing in a TV film about Saddam Hussein starring an Israeli actor as the tyrant. The Egyptian actor’s union said it would investigate whether Amr Waked violated its rules for agreeing to play Saddam’s son-in-law in a BBC production now filming in Tunisia. Yigal Naor, an Israeli, plays Saddam. Waked, who appeared opposite George Clooney in “Syriana” in 2005, has been telling Egyptian newspapers that he did not know of Naor’s participation when he signed on and that the film is critical of U.S. — jta