Newsdesk May 14, 2004

Syria Dumps Minister

The U.S. decision to slap Syria with sanctions appears to have cost the country’s defense minister, General Mustapha Tlass, his job.

After serving more than 30 years in his post and 50 years in the Syrian military, Tlass has been booted from the cabinet of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Tlass left office Tuesday, the very same day that the White House imposed sanctions on Syria for its support of terrorism and development of weapons.

President Bush implemented several sanctions against Syria, including a ban on the export of military items and “dual-use” items that could be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Bush also banned all U.S. exports except for food and medicine, banned flights to and from Syria, and froze assets of some Syrian citizens. The sanctions were part of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, which passed Congress last year.

Diplomatic sources told the Forward that the timing of the cabinet reshuffle was not a coincidence.

Tlass, the author of antisemitic books and essays, has been a longtime source of embarrassment for the young Assad and his father, former Syrian President Hafez Assad.

American Jewish groups have complained to consecutive U.S. administrations, as well as directly to Syria’s ambassador in Washington, about Tlass’s blatant antisemitism. Syrian government sources have recently communicated to Washington that Assad was looking for an elegant way to end the general’s long service in office.

Tlass will be replaced by General Hassan al-Turkmani, the chief of staff of Syria’s army.

N.Z. Detains Official

New Zealand immigration officials detained the treasurer of the Jewish Agency for three hours at Auckland International Airport. The incident comes amid accusations that two Israelis arrested and charged with fraudulently attempting to obtain New Zealand passports several weeks ago were Mossad agents.

Last week, Shai Hermesh, treasurer of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Yigal Sela, his senior consultant, were told by customs official on their arrival in Auckland, “We are treating all of you Israelis the same — you are nothing but drug dealers and spies,’’ according to Sela. The pair was visiting New Zealand on a fact-finding mission to the South Pacific.

Bomb Found Near Paris

A bomb was discovered at the synagogue at Villiers-le-Bel, north of Paris. The bomb was placed in the grounds of the synagogue at Villiers-le-Bel and was found by a synagogue member shortly before Friday evening services May 7. The bomb had been placed in a bag inscribed with a swastika and the words “Boom anti-Jews.” The incident followed an attack on a Jewish war memorial in eastern France earlier that day as well as a cemetery desecration near the German border last week. Police believe those incidents were the work of neo-Nazi groups.

Reform Slams FDA

The Reform movement condemned the government’s decision to keep the “morning after” pill from being sold over the counter. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that it would continue to classify the emergency abortion medication “Plan B” as a prescription drug, despite the recommendations of an FDA expert advisory panel to make it available over the counter.

“The FDA’s decision to ignore its own advisory committee’s recommendation and instead yield to pressure from groups opposed to women’s reproductive freedom signals a dangerous intrusion of politics into science,” said Rabbi Marla Feldman, director of the Reform movement’s Commission on Social Action.

House Approves Iran Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill urging countries to cut ties with Iran until it opens its nuclear weapons program to inspectors. Pro-Israel groups lobbied for the bill, which called on Europe, Japan and Russia to cut their ties with the Islamic republic. The bill now faces Senate debate after its 376-3 House passage May 6. “None of us can close our eyes to the ominous and growing danger posed by the government of Iran,” said House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland. “It is a committed enemy of the state of Israel, our staunch ally and the lone democracy in this most volatile region.”

Antisemitism Bill Passed

The U.S. Senate passed legislation last week requiring the State Department to report on acts of antisemitism around the world. The Global Anti-Semitism Review Act mandates that the government report annually on harassment and acts of physical violence against Jews in each country and on the governmental responses, as part of its annual reports on international religious freedom and human rights. The bill awaits action in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Newsdesk May 14, 2004

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