Mideast shorts

Reports: Hamas official defects; Israel launches airstrike in Gaza

A senior Hamas officer from Gaza reportedly has defected to Israel.

Bassam Mahmoud Baraka, who is believed to have extensive knowledge of Hamas’ underground tunnel networks, may have fled to Israel, Haaretz reported on June 14, citing several Palestinian media outlets.

Baraka, the son of a Muslim religious judge affiliated with Hamas, is believed to have given himself up to Israeli soldiers waiting for him at the border, the Palestinian reports said. Fatah websites said the Red Cross informed Baraka’s family that he was in Israeli custody.

Meanwhile, Israel reportedly launched an airstrike in Gaza, causing damage but no injuries.

According to the Times of Israel, Palestinian sources on June 14 said Israelis were targeting a Hamas tunnel opening when they hit an agricultural area near the border. The Israel Defense Forces confirmed there were explosions but said they were related to an Air Force test. — jta


Israel’s U.N. envoy to lead committee after historic vote

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations was elected chairman of the U.N. Legal Committee — the first time an Israeli has been chosen to head a permanent committee of the world body.

Danny Danon received 109 out of 175 votes in the General Assembly on June 13 to head what is also known as the Sixth Committee, which deals with issues in international law, including global terrorism.

Danon reportedly was chosen after months of diplomatic wrangling. He said in a Facebook post that Iran, the Palestinians and other nations tried to stop the appointment. He thanked the countries that “stood beside Israel” in the historic appointment.

“We will not allow dictatorships and anti-Israel countries to harm our standing in the international community,” he said in a statement, according to Ynet. “We are a full member of the UN, and any attempt to deny us of our legal rights in this organization will be met with uncompromising rejection.”  — jta


Chief rabbi holds Orthodox service in egalitarian area of Western Wall

In what is believed to be a first, Orthodox Jews temporarily took over the space at the Western Wall that has been designated for non-Orthodox prayer services.

A mechitzah — a physical divider separating men and women — was set up at the southern section of the Western Wall on June 14 for a service led by Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Haaretz reported. Amar is the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel.

“This is an intentional sabotage of relations between Israel and world Jewry,” Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel, told Haaretz.

The Orthodox prayer service in the egalitarian area comes as liberal Jews are voicing frustration that plans for an expanded prayer space promised in January — and vehemently opposed by the Chief Rabbinate and numerous haredi Orthodox leaders — have yet to move forward. In addition, a new law moving through the Knesset would allow state-funded mikvahs, or ritual baths, to prohibit their spaces from being used for Reform and Conservative conversions.

Earlier this month, Amar said the new mixed-gender plaza at the Wall would constitute an “unforgivable wrong.”  — jta


JDate closes Israel offices

The Jewish matchmaking website JDate has closed its offices in Israel.

The Israeli JDate website will continue to be maintained from the United States and include Hebrew-language content. The closure is part of a reduction in the company’s operations worldwide following declining revenues over the last year.

JDate, the first Jewish dating website, was established in the United States in 1997 and began operating in Israel in 2002. The website has about 750,000 subscribers, 350,000 of them in Israel. — jta