Report: illegal West Bank construction up; Phosphorous bombs used in Hezbollah fight

Report: Illegal West Bank Construction Up

Israel reportedly has suppressed a government report revealing large-scale settlement expansion in the West Bank. Ha’aretz reported Tuesday that a study conducted over the past two years found that settlements and outposts often have been expanded without government permission, and on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank. The newspaper alleged that unnamed officials in the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration have removed information on settlement expansion from a government database to obscure the extent of the construction. The Defense Ministry confirmed that a study had been put together, but said its contents were classified since it hadn’t yet been submitted to the Cabinet. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv declined comment on the report, saying only that Washington expects Israel to keep to its commitments under the “road map” peace plan, which include a freeze on settlement expansion and the dismantling of illegal outposts.

Phosphorous Bombs Used in Hezbollah Fight

Israel confirmed that it used white phosphorous bombs during the war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Ha’aretz this week quoted Cabinet minister Jacob Edery as telling a lawmaker that Israeli forces fired an unspecified number of white phosphorous shells at Hezbollah targets during the war. Security sources confirmed the statement. The material is designed to wipe out enemy emplacements by causing severe burns. Israel says it abided by international law, which bans its use against civilian targets.

Hamas Threatens More Kidnappings

“We will abduct more soldiers if Israel does not release Palestinian prisoners,” Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas member, told supporters at a Gaza Strip rally over the weekend.

Hamas was the main actor in a June 25 raid across the Gaza border in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, captured. The Palestinian Authority has demanded that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. While Israel has formally ruled this out, a Hamas aide was quoted as saying over the weekend that it could relent soon. “Soon we will find a solution to the matter of the captive soldier,” said Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to P.A. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. “Israel has voiced readiness to accept the Palestinian terms, which include the release of Palestinian prisoners.”

Report: Spy Heading U.N. Hostage Efforts

The United Nations reportedly appointed a German spy to help secure the release of two Israeli soldiers held hostage by Hezbollah. The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made the appointment in September during a secret meeting with the unnamed BND intelligence agent in Madrid. According to Der Spiegel, the spy will lead behind-the-scenes efforts to secure the release of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose abduction by Hezbollah in a July 12 border raid triggered the war in Lebanon. The BND, Germany’s foreign spy service, was integral to brokering a 2004 deal in which Hezbollah repatriated a captured Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers in exchange for Israel’s release of hundreds of Arab security prisoners. Neither the BND nor the United Nations commented on the report.

Russia: Go Easy on Hamas

Russia’s foreign minister called for Hamas to be included in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts. Sergei Lavrov said in an interview published Tuesday that it’s unrealistic for Western powers to shun the radical Islamist group to get it to recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce terrorism.”I have said repeatedly that asking Hamas to change its positions 100 percent is not realistic. We must look at what is possible,” Lavrov told the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. “Undoubtedly, Hamas, as the power that received a mandate from voters, must be a part of the solution and not the problem itself. As we know from our dealings with Hamas and its representatives, Hamas is ready to move toward common ground.”Russia broke with the United States and European Union by engaging Hamas politically after it won Palestinian Authority elections in January. The group has said it could enter a long-term truce with Israel but would never recognize the Jewish state.

Jewish Groups Among Top Philanthropies

U.S. Jewish groups are well-represented in The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of the 400 largest charities. The list in the publication’s Oct. 26 issue, which named the 400 U.S. charities that took in the most money from private donors in 2005, included 23 Jewish charities, down from 26 in 2004. The United Jewish Communities, the umbrella group for North America’s 155 federations, took in $333,824,000 and was the highest-ranked Jewish group at No. 34, while the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest in New Jersey was the last organization named on the list. The Jewish Communal Fund moved up the list to No. 54, after increasing its intake by 49 percent since the previous year, to $203,330,851, according to the chronicle. The Jewish National Fund made the list for the first time, coming in at No. 359. Three federations, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, and the San Diego-based Jewish Community Foundation, dropped off the list.

Religious Rights Claimed in Bay Area Shul Battle

A northern California synagogue claims its religious rights are being violated as neighbors seek to block expansion plans. Congregation Kol Shofar, an 1,800-member congregation in Tiburon north of San Francisco, wants to add two wings to its existing structure for weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Hundreds of neighbors signed petitions objecting to the expansion, and the town planning commission denied the permit. The synagogue has turned to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a national foundation that fights for religious freedom. Rabbi Lavey Derby told the San Francisco Chronicle that he doesn’t believe anti-Semitism is involved, but that not allowing the synagogue to expand will restrict its right to exercise its religion. The Tiburon Town Council will make its decision Nov. 15.

Campaign to Compensate Jewish Refugees

A campaign to gain restitution for Jews expelled from Arab countries in the mid-20th century was launched. The “International Rights and Redress Campaign” opened with a one-day summit in Jerusalem on Sunday attended by representatives of Jewish communities from 10 countries. Participants called for a campaign to document properties lost by an estimated 900,000 Jews who were driven out of Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen after Israel’s founding in 1948. Most of the refugees ended up in the nascent Jewish state, while others immigrated to the West. One group, the World Organization of Jews From Arab Countries, has valued the refugees’ lost property at $100 billion, and wants a concerted effort to sue for reparations.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.