Shorts: Mideast

Israeli divorce rate jumps 5 percent

The annual number of divorces in Israel passed 10,000 for the first time.

The number of divorces in Israel in 2008 was 10,225, a 5 percent increase over the previous year, according to figures released by the Rabbinical Court Administration.

Tel Aviv had the most divorces with 817, a 7 percent increase over the previous year.

In addition, rabbinic courts sanctioned 73 people for refusing to grant their spouses a Jewish divorce and issued 20 warrants for the arrest of recalcitrant husbands. — jta

Israelis donate food, clothes to Gazans

Tel Aviv residents have been collecting food and clothing items, as well as toys and hygiene products, for Gaza residents, many of whom have been left without the most basic supplies following Israel’s three-week military offensive.

“Our goal is to help the residents of Gaza who are living under unbearable conditions,” said Daphna Levy, one of the drive’s organizers. “The situation we have left them in does not seem reasonable to us.

“The issue is purely humanitarian, not political,” she added. “Our volunteers come from a wide range of political affiliations.”

The imminent transfer of the supplies to Gaza was made possible following negotiations between the Ner Leshalom (Candle for Peace) association and Israel Defense Forces officials. —

Israel baseball back in business?

Five months after the U.S.-based Israel Baseball League dissolved, the Israel Association of Baseball has entered into negotiations with a group of “prominent North American sportsmen.”

The statement said the group hopes to establish “a fully staffed professional baseball league in the next one or two years.”

The new group is headed by Marv Goldklang, a part owner of the New York Yankees and principal owner of four minor league professional baseball teams. Jeff Rosen, owner of the Maccabi Haifa Heat of Israel’s Basketball Super League and other “prominent individuals involved in Major League Baseball and other sports endeavors” also will be involved.

Professional baseball was first launched in Israel in the form of the IBL in the summer of 2007. Although the league was a limited success, it failed to become financially viable. —

Ancient figurine found in Jerusalem

An 1,800-year-old figurine was discovered during an excavation in Jerusalem’s City of David. The figurine likely dates back to the time of the emperor Hadrian or shortly thereafter, circa the second or third centuries, according to archaeologists on site.

The marble bust depicts a bearded man’s head and was probably of a boxer; boxing was among the most popular fields of heavy athletics in Roman culture.

“To the best of our knowledge, to date no similar artifact made of marble, or any other kind of stone, bearing the same image that was just found has been discovered in excavations elsewhere in the country,” said Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, directors of the excavation at the site on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “It seems that what we have here is a unique find.”

One of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever found in Jerusalem was discovered recently at the same site. — jta

Report: Israel has offered to free 1,000 inmates for Shalit

Israel has offered to free at least 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, according to Arab reports.

Israel Radio cites the London-based Arabic A-Shark Al-Awsat daily newspaper as reporting that Israel offered to release 280 prisoners on a list submitted by Hamas, as well as another 1,050 Palestinian prisoners, and other steps including removing West Bank roadblocks.

The Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram quotes Hamas negotiator Ayman Taha as saying that Israel offered to open Gaza crossings and free 1,000 prisoners for Shalit, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Egyptian officials reportedly have warned Hamas that Israel could harden its positions after an expected victory by Benjamin Netanyahu in the Feb. 10 national elections and have urged Hamas to accept Israeli proposals before then, A-Shark Al-Awsat reported. — jta