Nation and World Briefs

Three Boys Die in Pesach Fire
Three Jewish boys in Brooklyn died after a fire on Passover ripped through their apartment. Sunday’s fire began in the kitchen, where the Matyas family had left two stove burners on since last Friday evening. The boys who died in the Chasidic neighborhood of Williamsburg on Sunday were brothers Shyia and Yidal Matyas, 13 and 15, and their nephew, Shlomi Falkowitz, 7. Jewish law prohibits the lighting or extinguishing of flames on the Sabbath and Jewish festivals; in order to heat up food, families often leave burners on over the holidays. Passover began at sundown on Saturday night this year, immediately preceded by the Sabbath, so the burners were left on for an extended period. Sarah Matyas, 20, who jumped out the window of the family’s second-story apartment, was in serious condition Monday night at a local hospital, The New York Times reported.

Putin Pushes Peace
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to host an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit.
“I am suggesting that we should convene a conference for all these countries concerned and the ‘Quartet,’ next autumn,” Putin told reporters Wednesday in Cairo, where he met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before continuing to Israel and the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority responded warmly to the offer, but there was no immediate response from Israel. Putin’s landmark trip to Israel — the first by a Russian or Soviet head of government — is seen as a bid to boost his clout in peacemaking and ease Israeli concerns about renewed Russian arms sales to Syria. Russia is a member of the Quartet of Israeli-Palestinian peacemakers, along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.

Cardin Announces Senate Run
A Jewish congressman in Maryland announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), a 10-term Baltimore congressman, made his announcement Tuesday at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The 2006 campaign will produce a replacement for Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), who is retiring. Kweisi Mfume, who recently stepped down as president of the NAACP, also has announced his intention to run in the Democratic primary. The likeliest Republican candidate is Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Cardin, 61, has been in politics since he was elected to the state House of Delegates at 21. He is a member of a well-known Baltimore Jewish family.

British Academics Boycott Two Schools
A British union of university teachers launched a boycott of two Israeli universities. The Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted to suspend all links with Haifa and Bar-Ilan Universities, and agreed to circulate to members a statement from Palestinian organizations calling for a full-scale boycott of Israeli academics. Haifa University was accused of victimizing an anti-Zionist lecturer, Ilan Pappe, and Bar-Ilan was charged with aiding a college in a West Bank settlement. The decision was immediately condemned by Jewish and academic groups. The Board of Deputies, the representative body of British Jewry, described it as a “blinkered, irresponsible and dangerous move.”
“The members have voted for a motion that is as misguided as it is unbalanced, taking no account of those of the moderate voices on all sides who crave peace and dialogue,” a Board of Deputies spokesman said.
Ronnie Fraser, chair of the Academic Friends of Israel U.K., said, “If the sponsors of this boycotting campaign succeeded in something, it is only to undermine further progress, collaboration and peace in the Middle East and to marginalize the standing of the AUT and its members in the academic community.”

Papal Olive Branch
Pope Benedict XVI extolled Jews for sharing a “spiritual heritage” with Christians. In a Vatican sermon Sunday marking his installation as pontiff, Benedict offered greetings to “my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God’s irrevocable promises.” The German-born Benedict is widely expected to pursue the path of religious reconciliation forged by his predecessor, John Paul II. Rome’s chief rabbi, Riccardo di Segni, received a personal invitation to the Sunday Mass but could not attend due to Passover.

Senate Passes Palestinian Aid
The U.S. Senate passed a spending bill that includes aid for the Palestinian Authority. The bill, which includes spending for military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, includes $200 million for the Palestinian Authority, of which $50 million will be for Israel to create high-tech border crossing points between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The legislation, which passed 99-0, now must be reconciled with a U.S. House of Representatives’ bill that includes the same amount for the Palestinian Authority, without specifically designating the $50 million for Israel.

Protestants: End Sanctions
Jewish groups signed a letter last Friday to the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church, asking that they not endorse calls for economic and political sanctions against Israel, as several Protestant groups have done.
“At this fragile time in the Middle East peace negotiations, all who seek peace should be focused on continued economic and political engagement, and what can be done to support efforts to peace and confidence building,” the letter said. “We call on our Christian colleagues to reject all negative economic and political sanctions, for they undermine peace, foster prejudice and give hope to extremists on every side.” Organizations signing the letter included the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Orthodox Union, Union for Reform Judaism and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telgraphic Agency