Shorts: Mideast

Olmert: Peace requires Israel withdrawals

Israel will have to give up virtually all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem if it wants peace with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a farewell interview published Sept. 29 in Yediot Ahronot.

Olmert also said Israel would have to leave the Golan Heights in order to obtain peace with Syria.

The significance of the comments was uncertain, since Olmert’s days in office are numbered and peace negotiations will soon become the responsibility of a different Israeli leader. The interview did, however, mark Olmert’s transformation from a vocal hard-liner who for decades opposed any territorial concessions to the Palestinians. — ap

Syrian leaders blame Israel for attack

Syrian leaders and Arab media are blaming Israel and the United States for a car bomb in Damascus over the weekend.

The Sept. 27 explosion, which is being called a “terrorist act,” killed 17 civilians, according to reports. It took place near a Syrian intelligence service building. An unnamed high ranking military officer was killed in the attack, according to reports.

“Israel is at the top of the list of those who benefit from this type of action,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in New York at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. A columnist for the Jordanian daily Al Dustur blamed the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.

Syria has been the scene of several assassinations in recent months, including the shooting of Hisham el Badni, secretary to Hamas’ political leader Khaled Mashaal earlier this month, and the July shooting of Brig. Gen. Mohammad Suleiman, a senior aide to Syrian President Bashar Assad. — jta

Report: Bush nixed attack on Iran

President Bush reportedly vetoed Israel’s plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear weapons sites.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked Bush’s approval when the U.S. president was in Israel in May, commemorating its 60th anniversary, the Guardian newspaper of London reported last week. Bush turned down the request, the report said, fearing Iranian attacks on U.S. interests in the region and beyond. Bush also was not convinced Israel would be able to stop the suspected weapons program. — jta

IDF using Facebook to catch draft dodgers

Israel’s army is using Facebook to track down draft dodgers. The army visited the Facebook account of a teenager who was dismissed from army service after declaring she was religious despite attending a secular school, and discovered that she did not lead a religious lifestyle, reported.

Pictures on her Facebook account showed that she did not dress in a style acceptable to the religious community and that she attended parties on Shabbat. The army has since drafted her. — jta

Bush and Abbas recommit to deadline

President Bush and Mahmoud Abbas recommitted to a pledge to achieve a Palestinian-Israeli peace plan by January.

Bush renewed Palestinian Israeli peace talks just over a year ago and said he hoped to see an agreement before he left office in January 2009. “I’ve got four more months left in office and I’m hopeful that the vision that you and I have worked on can come to pass,” Bush said, meeting the Palestinian Authority prime minister Sept. 25 at the White House. “And my only pledge to you is that I’ll continue to work hard to see that it can come to pass.”

Talks have progressed, but have been stymied in part by the resignation of Israel’s scandal-plagued prime minister, Ehud Olmert; the U.S. presidential elections; and Palestinian Authority presidential elections scheduled for early next year. Abbas also re-committed to the January deadline for an agreement. — jta

Olmert lambastes bomb attack on prof

Last week’s pipe bomb attack against a professor who is critical of the settler movement is a threat to democracy, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.

Olmert compared the Sept. 25 attack on Ze’ev Sternhell — an Israel Prize winning professor — to the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the 1983 murder of Peace Now activist Emil Greenzweig. He said he had directed his security agencies to investigate and bring the case to justice quickly.

The investigation will likely focus on right-wing extremists since pamphlets offering a reward for the murder of activists associated with the left-wing Peace Now organization were found near Sternhell’s home and because of threatening, though undated, messages posted on a right wing Internet forum, according to — jta

World Jewish population increases 100,000

The Jewish Agency’s annual population report published last week indicates an increase in the number of Jews choosing to live in Israel, but a decrease in the number of diaspora Jews.

The report on Jewish communities around the world also noted an increase in the numbers of Jews worldwide.

The report, based on research performed by professor Sergio Della Pergola of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, noted that there are 13.3 million Jews living around the world, an increase over 13.2 million on the eve of the Jewish New Year in 2007.

The report’s count included all those listed or declaring themselves to be of the Jewish faith and holding no other religious denomination.

According to the data, 2008 saw a rise in the number of Jews living in Israel, as 70,000 new Israelis were added to the state. At the same time, the number of diaspora Jews decreased from 7.8 million to 7.75 million.

In the rankings of the largest Jewish communities, Israel is followed by the United States, where 5.3 million Jews currently reside. The rest of the top 10: France (490,000 Jews), Canada (375,000), the United Kingdom (295,000), Russia (215,000), Argentina (183,000), Germany (120,000), Australia (107,000) and Brazil (96,000).

The smallest Jewish community was found to be in Afghanistan, numbering just one man.

The report noted that fewer Jews are found in diaspora, in part, because assimilation is on the rise. Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski warned that the situation poses “a clear danger to the Jewish people.” —

House passes Iran sanctions

The House of Representatives again overwhelmingly approved Iran sanctions legislation.

The bill approved Sept. 26 in a voice vote was a consolidation of two other bills the House had already approved. The two other bills, strongly supported by AIPAC, had been stymied in the Senate by Republican parliamentary maneuvers, and the vote last week was a last-ditch attempt by Democrats to ram through new sanctions legislation.

Like the earlier bills, the new measure would close loopholes allowing U.S. companies to operate foreign subsidiaries that deal with Iran, expand the range of sanctions against foreign entities that deal with Iran and facilitate divestment from Iran for pensions. The White House had opposed the legislation because of its encroachment on the president’s foreign policy prerogatives. — jta

Bomb scare on Paris-Tel Aviv flight

A passenger plane from Paris to Tel Aviv suspected of carrying a bomb was escorted to Israel by fighter planes from three countries.

Israeli officials later said there was no bomb on the El Al Boeing 767. The plane and passengers landed safely in Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Sept. 24, and the aircraft was searched after those on board were evacuated.

Reports said a threat supposedly linked to al Qaida was passed on to authorities after the flight took off from Paris. During intervals of its trajectory, the El Al was escorted by fighter jets from Greece, Israel and France, said Reuters, citing a Channel 2 report in Israel. — jta