Newsdesk October 14, 2005

Suicide Report in Syria

Syria’s official news agency has reported that the country’s interior minister, Ghazi Kenaan, committed suicide Wednesday.

The announcement concerning Kenaan, who ran Lebanon as security chief until 2003, came just days before the expected release of a United Nations report on the assassination of a former Lebanese leader.

“Interior Minister Brigadier General Ghazi Kenaan committed suicide in his office before noon,” the Syrian Arab News Agency reported. “Authorities are carrying out the necessary investigation into the incident.”

The announcement was a new and startling sign of turmoil in Syria, whose authoritarian regime is bracing for the possibility that the U.N. report might implicate high-ranking Syrian officials in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. The late prime minister was strongly opposed to the Syrian presence in Lebanon.

Kenaan was intelligence chief in Lebanon from 1982 until 2002, presiding over Syria’s control of its neighboring country. He then headed Syria’s powerful Political Security Directorate until becoming interior minister in October 2004.

U.N. investigators reportedly questioned him in the probe of the Hariri’s murder.

The Syrian government issued a statement mourning Kenaan’s death but gave no other details. State radio and television continued normal programming.

Prominent Lebanese legislator and journalist Gebran Tueni cast doubt on the suicide report.

“It is not known for sure if he committed suicide or was made to commit suicide,” Tueni told Al-Arabiya TV from Paris. “In Syria, there are some people who want to hide the facts and don’t want everything about the Syrian period in Lebanon to be known.”

Apology for ‘Gold Train’

The United States issued an apology for its role in the Hungarian “Gold Train” affair. In 1945, American troops confiscated a train full of Hungarian Jewish property looted by the Nazis. No serious attempt was ever made to return the property to its rightful owners, and this year the American government settled a class-action lawsuit by paying $25 million — most of it to Hungarian Holocaust survivors in need — and by pledging an apology. A lengthy preamble to the apology, which was released Tuesday, notes the difficulties at the time in tracking survivors, the fact that much of the proceeds from the sale of the property helped settle Jewish refugees, and the fact that the United States sacrificed 175,000 troops in the war. However, on the third page of the three-page statement the government admitted that some of its military personnel broke American law and policy by stealing some property.

Cleveland Museum Opens

More than 600 people attended Tuesday’s opening of Cleveland’s Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, which featured a performance in which actress Valerie Harper portrayed late Israeli leader Golda Meir, and remarks by Ohio Democrat Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones. The museum will feature exhibits on Jewish history and culture, as well as an exhibit on religious art. Funded by the Maltz Family Foundation and the Cleveland Jewish Community Federation’s Centennial Initiative, it sits on land owned by The Temple-Tifereth Israel.

Ouster at Russian Congress

Several top members of the Russian Jewish Congress voted October 6 to oust the group’s head, Vladimir Slutsker. But Slutsker refused to step down, saying that only the group’s presidium could vote him out. Some of the organization’s donors accused Slutsker of helping the Russian government deny Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, entry to the country earlier this month. Slutsker denies the charge.

Some of the organization’s lay leaders who attended the meeting also claimed that Slutsker has provoked a controversy with the Moscow Jewish community over property. A meeting of the organization’s presidium to address the matter is scheduled for November 10. Mikhail Fridman, a prominent business tycoon and the main donor to the organization, suggested that chemical magnate Vyacheslav Kantor replace Slutsker. Kantor, who divides his time between Switzerland and Russia, is chairman of the European Jewish Congress’s board of governors.

Bishop Honored

The Roman Catholic Church honored a German bishop who denounced antisemitism during Hitler’s rule. Clemens August Graf von Galen was beatified — the last step before sainthood — on Sunday, The Associated Press reported. Von Galen, who died in 1946, wrote speeches denouncing Nazi policy that secretly were copied and circulated, church officials said.

Saban Buys Bezek

Israel’s national phone company has been privatized. Israeli American media baron Haim Saban and affiliated investors paid $944 million Tuesday for a 30% stake in Bezek, with an option for another 10%, effectively completing a takeover of the formerly state-owned firm. Bezek employees will enjoy profit-sharing and stock-option rights as part of the privatization, but dozens are expected to be laid off. The takeover was announced in May as part of a privatization drive championed by then-finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Dean Blasts Hamas

Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean told Jewish leaders that Hamas must disarm before it can participate in Palestinian elections. Dean spoke Tuesday to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations about his trip to Israel last month. Participants said Dean stressed the need for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to take stronger action against terrorist groups and praised the Israeli government for its recent Gaza withdrawal. Dean condemned church groups that participate in campaigns to divest from Israel and he suggested he would get involved personally in combating them. He also spoke out against Bush administration policy in Iraq. Dean suggested that it has crippled America’s ability to deal with Iran’s nuclear-weapon threat, which he said poses a greater risk to Israel.

Arrest in Murder

Israeli police arrested a Palestinian believed to have murdered a British yeshiva student in Jerusalem. The 43-year-old Hebron man confessed to killing Shmuel Mett in August, calling it “revenge” for the desecration of a Jaffa mosque by an Israeli couple, police said Tuesday. The suspect, who was taken into custody last weekend, also faces charges of wounding a second yeshiva student in the Old City attack. The man is believed to have ties to Hamas.

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Newsdesk October 14, 2005

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