Shorts: Mideast

Sderot mayor: Hamas, let’s talk

The mayor of Sderot this week called for truce talks with Hamas.

Eli Moyal, whose town is the most frequent target of attacks from Gaza, told Army Radio he was prepared to meet with Hamas if that would stop the rocket assaults.

“I’ll meet with anyone I have to,” said Moyal, a member of the Likud Party. “We can’t bear to see this hell in Sderot.”

On Feb. 24, the Israeli government allocated $73 million for the fortification of thousands of homes along the Gaza border, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said by 2010 Israel would possess an anti-missile defense system. — ap

Sharon turns 80; son goes to jail

Ariel Sharon turned 80 on Feb. 26.

Relatives of the stricken former prime minister held a small ceremony by his bedside at Tel Hashomer hospital. Sharon suffered a stroke more than two years ago and went into a coma that is likely irreversible.

The meeting was said to have been especially gloomy for the family as one of Sharon’s two sons, Omri, began a seven-month prison sentence Feb. 27 for violating election-funding laws.

A former lawmaker, Omri Sharon was convicted of illicitly bankrolling his father’s successful run to become head of the Likud Party. — jta

Jericho off Israeli grid

The West Bank town of Jericho was linked to the electricity grid of neighboring Jordan on Feb. 25, part of what Palestinians hope will be a reduction of ties with Israel.

Israel has provided electricity to the West Bank and Gaza since capturing the territories in the Six-Day War.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said the Palestinians have joined seven countries setting up an interconnected grid — Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. — ap

Court upholds Katsav’s plea

Israel’s High Court of Justice upheld ex-president Moshe Katsav’s plea bargain Feb. 26.

A five-justice High Court panel decided to reject six petitions against the Attorney General’s Office decision last year to drop rape charges against Katsav in exchange for his confession to lesser offenses.

The plea bargain outraged feminist and government watchdog groups, who said the state risked playing down the severity of sex crimes and inviting charges of favoritism toward public figures.

Under the plea bargain, the former president will receive a suspended prison sentence and pay $12,000 in compensation to two of the complainants. — jta

Israel may skip U.N. conference

Israel said it will likely boycott next year’s United Nations conference on racism in Durban.

The 2009 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance is slated to take place in the South Africa city where it was last held in 2001.

That event was marked by fierce anti-Zionist and pro-Arab agitation, leading Israel to watch preparations for the upcoming conference with concern.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni indicated last week that Jerusalem was not satisfied by the agenda of Durban II. — jta

Sodomy blamed for earthquakes

Sodomy caused the earthquakes that recently struck Israel, an Orthodox Israeli lawmaker said.

Shlomo Benizri of the Shas Party said during a Knesset discussion of earthquake preparedness last week that “mundane” measures such as seismic detectors and building fortifications are not enough.

“The Talmud explains why earthquakes happen, and one of these reasons, which the Knesset sanctions, is sodomy,” Benizri said in the plenum. — jta

Hospital mezuzahs laden with germs

According to an Israeli study released this month by Assaf Harofeh Hospital, mezuzahs in medical wards frequently carry germs and bacteria that can lead to illnesses such as urinary tract infections, intestinal distress and skin rashes.

The conclusions were reached after studying 70 mezuzahs from different parts of the hospital. Though the communicability of the illnesses is far greater among patients, doctors said healthy hospital staff and visitors also should take precautions. — jta

Prime minister launches blog

Ehud Olmert launched a blog this week on his Web site,

The blog is currently titled “Travel Diary” and focuses on Olmert’s visit to Japan, describing him in the third person. Its authorship is unclear.

An English translation of the Hebrew original is available online. — jta