Shorts: Mideast

Commander of Exodus dead at 90 in Israel

Yossi Harel, commander of the Jewish immigrant ship Exodus, died Saturday at the age of 90 in his Tel Aviv home.

The ill-starred voyage of the Exodus, which sought to bring thousands of European refugees to pre-state Israel after World War II, became a potent symbol of the Jewish struggle for statehood.

More than 4,500 Holocaust survivors packed the ship in 1947 when it tried to run a British blockade meant to severely limit the immigration of Jews to pre-state Israel. The British Navy seized the vessel off the coast in July 1947, and after a battle on board that left three people dead, turned the ship and its passengers back to Europe. In four expeditions overall, Harel did manage to bring thousands of refugees to pre-state Israel.

Harel, who died of cardiac arrest according to his daughter Sharon, was immortalized in the Leon Uris novel and Otto Preminger movie starring Paul Newman. The Jerusalem-born Harel is to be buried in Kibbutz Sdot Yam, the communal farm that was headquarters of the naval force of Israel’s pre-state military. — ap

Prime minister regrets Gaza civilian deaths

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lamented the killing of a Palestinian woman and four of her children during an Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip.

“Israel feels deep remorse over this tragic event,” he told his Cabinet in broadcast remarks April 29.

The family members in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun were killed by an explosion April 28 as Israeli forces battled Palestinian gunmen.

According to the Israeli military, a Palestinian who was carrying munitions outside the house accidentally set off the blast. Gaza’s Hamas rulers said the building was hit by an Israeli tank shell or air force missile.

“The exact nature of these circumstances is still unclear to us,” Olmert said. “Israel’s armed forces will carry out an investigation and will publish its findings.” — jta

Israel preparing for Independence Day terror

Israel is bracing for increased attempts by Arab terrorists to attack during Independence Day celebrations.

Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, the chief of Israel’s military intelligence, said this week that Hamas is trying to pull off a major terrorist attack that would sap the joy out of the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary.

According to Yadlin, Lebanon’s Hezbollah is also likely to try to strike in solidarity with the Palestinians and to avenge the death of its slain terror chief Imad Mughniyeh. — jta

First in-office Australia leader visits Israel

Australia’s governor-general became the country’s first head of state to visit Israel while in office.

Maj.-Gen. Michael Jeffery arrived April 27 for a weeklong state visit that is scheduled to include meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Australia has had two Jewish governor-generals: Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowen.

The governor-general is the queen’s representative in Australia and is largely a ceremonial position. — jta

Yad Vashem launches YouTube channels

Yad Vashem has launched English- and Arabic-language channels on YouTube.

The two educational channels were launched in honor of this week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.

The English channel contains testimonies from Holocaust survivors, archival footage, historical lecturers and stories on issues of human interest such as survivors’ reunions. The second channel contains similar content but with Arabic subtitles.

“We know that YouTube is one of the most popular Web sites today,” Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said in a statement. “Unfortunately there is a plethora of misinformation and deliberate lies available on the Internet. The Yad Vashem channels will counter this material and make reliable information widely available to anyone who seeks to know more about this terrible chapter in human history.” — jta

Exhibit showcases survivors’ efforts

A new Yad Vashem exhibit celebrates the contribution of Holocaust survivors to building the state of Israel.

“My Homeland: Holocaust Survivors in Israel” was inaugurated April 28 by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Yad Vashem.

The exhibit, which will run for a year, features displays about Holocaust survivors who made their mark in Israeli activities ranging from the arts to athletics to public service. — jta

Former minister sentenced for corruption

A Jerusalem court has sentenced an ultra-Orthodox member of the Knesset to 18 months in prison.

Shlomo Benizri, a member of the Shas party, was recently convicted of accepting bribes, breach of trust and obstructing justice while he was the country’s Labor Minister in 2002.

Benizri told Israel Radio after the conviction April 27 that he is the victim of a “witch hunt” and proclaimed his innocence. A spokesman says he will appeal. — ap

Arabs paint mosque for 60th anniversary

Residents of an Israeli Arab village painted their mosque blue and white in honor of the Jewish state’s 60th anniversary.

They broke with many Israeli Arabs who have declared they will boycott next month’s celebrations.

“We are citizens of the state of Israel,” village elder Hisham Zouabi explained to the daily newspaper Ma’ariv. “For us, religion encourages us to bring nations together. The goal is simple: coexistence. A Jew who comes here should not feel that the place is hostile but like home.”

Taibe has approximately 2,000 residents and reports excellent relations with nearby Jewish communities. — jta n

Report cites increase in STDs, especially in Tel Aviv

Israel has seen a drastic rise in the number of sexually transmitted diseases over the past year.

Cases of genital herpes, chlamydia, syphilis and HIV have spiked sharply from 2006 to 2007, according to figures collated by the Health Ministry.

According to the report, the incidence of syphilis in Israel rose by a staggering 36 percent during that time, with one in every five syphilis sufferers a resident of Tel Aviv. By comparison, only one in 500 syphilis sufferers came from Jerusalem.

Similarly, the incidence of chlamydia rose by 21 percent around Israel in 2006-7, with one in two sufferers a resident of Tel Aviv. The incidence of HIV rose by 10 percent around Israel. —