Mideast Briefs

Senate bill seeks U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem

Three Republican senators have introduced a bill that would force the president to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

The bill introduced on Jan. 5 by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ted Cruz of Texas would remove the presidential waiver from the 1995 law passed by Congress recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and mandating the move from Tel Aviv.

Successive presidents have exercised the waiver every six months, most recently President Obama in December. They cite national security reasons over concerns that a move would lead to Islamist and Arab nationalist attacks on Americans and their allies in the region.

The bill would slash in half the funds that Congress disburses to the State Department for building, securing and maintaining embassies until the embassy opens in Jerusalem.

President-elect Donald Trump has said he would move the embassy to Jerusalem, but his transition team said declaring a timeline for a move would be inappropriate until Trump becomes president on Jan. 20.

Rubio and Cruz lost to Trump in the Republican presidential primaries. — jta


IDF soldier convicted in shooting of downed attacker

The conviction of an Israeli soldier on manslaughter charges for shooting and killing a downed Palestinian terrorist divided Israel lawmakers, with some seeking a pardon for the soldier and others urging respect for the rule of law.

The verdict against Sgt. Elor Azaria, 20, was read on Jan. 6 by a panel of three judges at the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in a statement delivered outside the courtroom, called the verdict against Azaria “very difficult.”

“Even those, like myself, who like the verdict less, must accept and respect it,” Lieberman said.

Among those calling for a pardon were opposition lawmaker Shelly Yachimovich, who previously served as head of the Labor Party. Naftali Bennett, who heads the pro-settler Jewish Home party, also criticized the verdict.

“Today a soldier who killed a terrorist who deserved to die, who tried to slaughter a soldier, was placed in handcuffs and convicted as a criminal,” Bennett said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Bennett called the criminal proceedings “contaminated from the start,” citing the fact that high-ranking army officials were condemning Azaria within hours of the March 24, 2016 incident in which Azaria, a medic in the elite Kfir Brigade, shot the assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in the head as he lay subdued on the ground. Sharif and another attacker had stabbed Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Hebron, a flashpoint for Palestinian violence against Jewish Israelis.

Isaac Herzog, head of the opposition Zionist Union coalition, called for the criticism of the judges and the IDF to stop. He called Azaria “the victim of a situation” and said “it is impossible to ignore the circumstances of the incident, reflecting an impossible situation in a complex setting that IDF soldiers deal with day in and day out.”

Tzipi Livni, who also heads the Zionist Union, said in a statement also posted on Facebook that “brave leadership needs to come out today on the side of the IDF and against the violence in the streets and say that the verdict must be accepted. That is the only way to stop the bleeding and polarization in Israeli society that has been created by the case.”

Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, called on Israelis and politicians to “end the violence and stop the irresponsible statements coming from within the political system.”

He added: “The court has made its decision and now we also have a role — to prevent a rift in our society and to ensure no harm comes to the people’s army.”

The shooting was captured on video, and Azaria was arrested the same day and indicted nearly a month later. Autopsy reports showed that the shots by Azaria killed Sharif.

Azaria will be sentenced at a later date. — jta


Official: State has
enough info to
investigate Bibi

Police have collected enough information to launch a criminal investigation of the Israeli prime minister, Israel’s attorney general said without detailing the evidence.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit released a statement Jan. 2 after police from the fraud investigative unit questioned Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu reportedly is accused of accepting valuable gifts from businessmen, including longtime friend Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress. New evidence collected in recent weeks turned what was to be preliminary questioning into a full investigation, according to the attorney general’s statement.

“The claims that ultimately led to the decision to question Netanyahu came up three months ago as initial suspicions,” the statement said. “Since then, the police have made major efforts to examine them and find evidence to support them. The inquiry developed and branched out in directions different from the ones that initially launched it.”

The statement also listed at least three cases against Netanyahu that have been dropped.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing.

Lauder has admitted to giving Netanyahu gifts, including suits, as well as hospitality for one of his sons on trips outside of Israel. Lauder has said these were gifts that friends give to each other and serve no other purpose. — jta

SpaceX provides
reason for Israeli
satellite explosion

The failure of one of three helium tanks caused the September launchpad explosion in Florida that destroyed a $300 million Israeli communications satellite, Elon Musk’s SpaceX company said.

A statement posted Jan. 2 on the SpaceX website said the explosion at Cape Canaveral was caused by the failure in the composite overwrapped pressure vessels, or COPVs, inside the liquid oxygen tank in the rocket’s second stage. The loose liquid oxygen triggered a fuel explosion.

The investigation was overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Air Force, NASA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket was in the midst of a routine fueling test for its scheduled launch on Sept. 1 when it exploded. The explosion was felt throughout Cape Canaveral and for several miles around.

The rocket was scheduled to hoist into orbit the Amos 6 satellite built by Israel Aerospace Industries and owned by Spacecom Ltd. in partnership with Eutelsat Communications of France. The satellite was expected to operate for 16 years in part on behalf of Facebook, and bring internet connectivity to sub-Saharan Africa and television service to providers in Europe and the Middle East. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the project in June 2015.

SpaceX Falcon rockets have been grounded since the explosion. SpaceX said in a statement that it expects to return to flight on Sunday, Jan. 8. — jta

Israel arranges for
return of victim
in Istanbul attack

Israel’s Interior Ministry arranged the return of the body of an Arab Israeli teenager killed in a terrorist attack in an Istanbul nightclub.

Lian Zaher Nasser, 19, from the Arab city of Tira, was one of 39 people killed in the attack, which occurred at around 1 a.m. Dec. 31 at the Reina nightclub in the Ortakoy neighborhood.

Nasser’s family asked the Tira municipality for help in repatriating the body, since there was no travel insurance to help with the expense. The municipality turned to the government, which made the arrangements.

The Israeli search-and-rescue organization Zaka, which has worked around the world, coordinated the repatriation including logistics, transportation and finances, the Times of Israel reported.

As the attack did not target Israeli citizens, the Defense Ministry is not expected to recognize Nasser or an injured friend as terror victims, Ynet reported. Two other Israeli women, also from Tira, were at the nightclub during the attack.

On Jan. 2, the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement written in Arabic and Turkish while warning of other attacks on Turkey to come. The attacker remained on the loose as of Jan. 3. — jta

Bodies of Hamas
terrorists won’t
be returned

The bodies of Hamas terrorists killed in attacks on Israelis will not be returned to their families and instead will be buried, Israel’s security cabinet said.

In a meeting on Jan. 1, the security cabinet focused on bringing about the release of Israeli civilians and the bodies of Israeli soldiers held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and came to the decision on the terrorists’ bodies.

“The political-security cabinet discussed standing policy on treatment of the bodies of Hamas terrorists killed during terror attacks and decided that they will not be returned, but will be buried,” read a statement issued on Jan. 1 by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The security cabinet is a select group of government ministers empowered to make decisions related to Israel’s foreign and defense policy, especially in urgent circumstances like war.

The decision came a day after Hamas released a video showing what it called a birthday party for Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, who was killed during the 2014 Gaza war and whose body is being held by the terrorist group. Hamas also is believed to be holding the body of Lt. Hadar Goldin, also killed during the 2014 conflict. Two Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza on their own, Avraham Mengistu and Juma Ibrahim Abu Anima, are believed to be alive and being held by Hamas. — jta

U.S. totals off only
slightly as aliyah
falls by 13 percent

Bucking a noticeable decrease in Jewish immigration to Israel this year, the number of Russian Jews who moved there has reached a 10-year record of 7,000 newcomers.

Overall, some 27,000 people moved to Israel last year under its Law of Return for Jews and their relatives, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, compared to 31,000 in 2015. That constitutes a 13 percent drop in aliyah overall.

Some 2,900 olim came from the United States last year, compared to 3,070 in 2015.

Aliyah from France, which in 2014 and 2015 was Israel’s largest single provider of immigrants with 6,658 and 7,468 newcomers, respectively, decreased considerably, according to preliminary statistics provided by the Ministry for Immigrant Absorption and by the Jewish Agency.

During the first 10 months of 2016, Israel saw the arrival of 4,214 French Jews and their relatives compared to 6,928 during the corresponding period in 2015, a 39 percent decrease. In October 2016, Israel saw 176 olim from France compared to 609 the previous year.

Aliyah from Ukraine totaled 5,500 last year, a 24 drop from 7,221 in 2015, the Jewish Agency said in a Dec. 29 statement.

The decrease in aliyah from France reflects “a slightly improved feeling of security” by French Jews due to government efforts to curb attacks on Jewish targets by Islamists, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky said last year. Eight people were murdered in two such attacks in France since 2012 and another four were killed in a 2014 shooting in Belgium, which French and Belgian prosecutors attribute to a France-born Islamist who is currently on trial in Brussels.

In Ukraine, the decrease in aliyah is attributable to increased stability following a bloody revolution in 2014 that has led to clashes between Ukrainian troops, separatists and Russian soldiers in a conflict that has contributed to the halving of the value of both countries’ currencies against the dollar, Sharansky said.

In relative terms, dramatic increases in aliyah occurred in Brazil, where a financial crisis and political instability have severely stunted growth, driving up aliyah by 52 percent to 760 last year from 497 in 2015.

Aliyah almost doubled this year from Turkey, where a wave of terrorist attacks and a failed coup attempt in July led to clampdowns on civil liberties by the country’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Some critics accuse Erdogan of encouraging anti-Semitic sentiment in Turkey. In the first 10 months of 2016, 181 immigrants had come from Turkey, compared to 93 in the corresponding period of 2015. — jta




JTA news agency