Newsdesk August 12, 2005

Red Cross Targeted in Gaza

The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended all field operations in Gaza on Monday in order to protest what it sees as a deterioration in security.

The Red Cross closed its offices in Khan Yunis indefinitely, after gunmen fired dozens of bullets at them. A number of United Nations aid officials have been abducted in Gaza in recent days.

The international organization said that it is “profoundly worried by the attack on its offices and the kidnapping of workers of international organizations in the Gaza Strip.”

Red Cross sources confirmed Monday that the organization has instructed its people to reduce activity to a minimum — office work only — until the situation stabilizes.

Other international sources, including several U.N. agencies, said the security deterioration might lead the U.N. to take similar measures.

The series of abductions and the shooting at Red Cross offices cast doubt over the Palestinian Authority’s ability to enforce quiet during Israel’s pullout from Gaza and to prevent chaos afterward.

Palestinian sources reported Monday that the Red Cross was holding talks with senior Palestinian officials, including P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas, to protest the situation. The talks were also intended to lead to firmer action by the Palestinian police to put an end to the abductions, which are part of the rivalry among Palestinian security branches.

Turkey Nabs Terrorists

An Israeli official said that Turkish authorities have cracked an Al Qaeda cell that planned to hit an Israeli tourist target. “People, weapons, means of transport and communication equipment were nabbed there belonging to a cell linked to Al Qaeda. It intended to carry out an attack at sea and, apparently, on land in foreign tourist centers,” Danny Arditi, director of the Israeli government’s counter-terrorism authority, told Israel’s Channel 2 television Tuesday. The disclosure came a day after the authority, out of fear of a terrorist attack, urged Israelis not to visit the southern Turkish coast. The advisory prompted a rash of cancellations by Israeli vacationers, and at least four cruise liners carrying Israeli passengers to Turkey were diverted to nearby Cyprus. Turkish officials had no immediate comment.

Pakistanis Detain Filmmakers

Pakistani authorities who detained two Swedish filmmakers of Jewish descent for 16 days probed them about their “religious preferences.” Leon Flamholc and his son, David, together with Tahir Shaw, a British writer of Afghan origin, were making a film about the Mogul empire when authorities arrested them July 18 in Peshawar, a large city near the border with Afghanistan. Authorities said their 16-day detention and their deportation August 3 were “lenient” because the men had entered on tourist visas and didn’t have permits to film. David Flamholc said the men were “blindfolded, held in shackles at gunpoint” and imprisoned in cells “stained with blood and excrement,” according to The Associated Press. Some of their interrogators’ questions focused on their religion, he said, apparently because of their Jewish background. British and Swedish diplomatic officials said they were denied access to the men.

Messiah Billboard Unveiled

A billboard calling late Chabad-Lubavitch leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson the messiah went up in Manhattan. Newsday reported Sunday that the billboard’s sponsor, a group called Jewish Women United for the Redemption, believes that publicly acknowledging the deceased Chabad leader as the messiah will hasten the onset of the messianic era, according to Basha Oka Botnick, a spokeswoman for the group. Chabad officials repeatedly have distanced themselves from such messianic groups.

Survivors Plagued By Suicide

Holocaust survivors are three times more likely to attempt suicide than other people are, a new study suggests.

According to findings published in the recent American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, around 24% of Holocaust survivors hospitalized at Israel’s Abarbanel Mental Health Center have tried to kill themselves, as opposed to an 8.2% rate of attempted suicide among other elderly patients. According to the Abarbanel staff and Tel Aviv University researchers who carried out the study, this overturns long-standing beliefs that Jews who survived the Nazi genocide have a stronger will to live. The rate of suicide attempts increases as survivors age, the researchers found.

Comp Time Saved

The American government has changed regulations to allow part-time federal employees to use comp time to take off for the Sabbath and other Jewish observances. Observant employees had been allowed to bank comp time instead of earning overtime wages in order to take off time for holidays, but the Office of Personnel Management recently changed the policy for part-time employees.

Candidate Drops Out

A North Carolina city council candidate, Doug Hanks, dropped out of the race after reports that he regularly posted to a white-supremacist message board on the Internet. Hanks said he made the posts to obtain information for a novel he was writing and to increase the book’s sales. He needed to appeal to “more than just the gun crowd,” Hanks told The Associated Press.

Presbyterians Press Firms

The Presbyterian Church said it would press four American companies to stop providing equipment and technology to Israel. The church said last Friday that it had selected Caterpillar, Motorola, ITT Industries and United Technologies for possible divestment if the companies refuse to stop doing business with Israel. Jewish groups criticized the move as unfairly punishing Israel and not helpful to Palestinians. The move is the latest by mainline Protestant churches regarding divestment from Israel. The Presbyterians also said they would pressure Citigroup because of its alleged connection to an Arab bank believed to have ties to suicide bombers.

Kosher Fines Threatened

Health inspectors in a Michigan county may impose fines on food sellers who falsely claim food is kosher. On August 4, Wayne County commissioners approved the measure — which also applies to halal food — because of complaints from local Muslims that butchers were asking higher prices for meat and falsely claiming it was halal. Dearborn, with one of the largest Arab populations in the United States, is in Wayne County. Businesses now must post signs identifying the slaughterer and the wholesaler. The new county law comports with existing state law in Michigan, and extends its powers to health inspectors.

Bias Crimes Probed

The New York Police Department is investigating a string of possible bias crimes, including two incidents in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood.

On August 1, Aryeh Grudka, a 50-year-old Hasidic Jew, was attacked by two black males who used antisemitic slurs and punched the victim, leaving him bloodied and with a lacerated lip. A few days earlier, on the Sabbath, tires were slashed on 10 Jewish-owned vehicles, including two Jewish ambulances, that were parked at the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare.

On August 7, also in New York, an unidentified male approached two men. He used anti-gay epithets and struck one of the men in the face. The same day, a black male was robbed and beaten by a group of white males. The next day, a white male called police to report verbal harassment by two black males who questioned the victim about the previous day’s incident.

City Council members met Tuesday to condemn the recent bias attacks. “We should celebrate the diversity of our city, not denigrate it,” said council member Kendall Stewart.

Despite the appearance of a wave of hate crimes, statistics show that the actual number of hate crimes between January and August is down by 45.25% since 2001, and that it is breaking even with the same period in 2004.

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Newsdesk August 12, 2005

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