Abbas: Final-status issues discussed at first round of peace talks

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel and the Palestinians discussed all the final-status issues in the first session of peace talks held in Jerusalem.

Abbas’ comments were made Thursday after a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Ramallah, the Jerusalem Post reported. The first round of peace talks was held the previous day in Jerusalem under a veil of secrecy.

Abbas said he hoped the talks would be concluded within six to nine months. Final-status issues are understood to be borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, security and prisoners.

“It’s premature to say whether we have or haven’t achieved something,” Abbas said. “We hope that the coming days would bring us answers that we could present to all.”

Ban Ki-moon, who travelled to Israel on Friday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, said in Ramallah that he hoped Israel would “create the appropriate atmosphere by halting settlements which we and the world consider illegitimate.” The Palestinians have “sincere intentions,” he also said.

But Netanyahu told him that the root of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians “doesn’t have to do with the settlements,” the Post reported. “That’s an issue that has to be resolved, but this is not the reason that we have a continual conflict. The conflict preceded the establishment of a single settlement by half a century and when we rooted out all the settlements in Gaza, the attacks continued because of this basic opposition to the Jewish State.”

Briefs: Now Olmert wants to talk; Hamas loots Arafat’s abode; Syria invites Israelis in Golan to sta

Olmert ready for ‘final status’ talks

Ehud Olmert said Tuesday he was ready to take steps toward final-status negotiations with the Palestinians.

“We have to have the groundwork that will enable us to start, soon I hope, negotiations for a Palestinian state,” the Israeli prime minister said at a White House session with President Bush.

Olmert said he looks forward to meeting soon with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He offered to do so in Palestinian territory in Jericho, the first time an Israeli prime minister would make such a trip. The Bush administration wants to accelerate final-status talks now that Abbas has separated himself from Hamas in the wake of Hamas’ routing of forces loyal to Abbas from the Gaza Strip.

“We want to have a vision for the Palestinians to see that there’s a better tomorrow for them,” Bush said at the meeting in the Oval Office.

Hamas raids Arafat’s home

Fatah leaders accused Hamas members of looting the Gaza City home of Yasser Arafat. Among the items taken in last Friday’s raid was the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the late Palestinian leader in 1994, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Ahmed Abdel, a Fatah spokesman, said that after Hamas supporters blew up the entrance to Arafat’s house, which has been vacant since 2001, they stormed in to steal many documents and personal belongings, such as his military outfits and pictures with his daughter.

“Most of the looters were just ordinary citizens,” eyewitnesses told the Post. “They stole almost everything, including furniture, tiles, water pipes, closets and beds.”

Rahman said the raid occurred despite Hamas’ promises to prevent such an operation.

“The Palestinian people will never forgive the Hamas gangs for looting the home of the Palestinian people’s great leader Yasser Arafat,” he said. “This crime will remain a stain of disgrace on the forehead of Hamas and its despicable gangs.”

Syria would let Israelis stay in Golan

Syria reportedly offered to let Israelis living on the Golan Heights remain, should it recover the territory.

“In Syria there are many minorities — Christians, Armenians, Kurds,” Syria’s ambassador to Britain, Sami Khiyami, was quoted by Ma’ariv on Tuesday as telling a conference in London: “There would be no problem with Israelis being there too.”

The remarks appeared to signal an enhancement of recent Syrian peace overtures toward Israel. Syria conditions talks on a complete return of the Golan, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed. Damascus did not immediately confirm Khiyami’s comments. Israel has said it is interested in new negotiations, but without preconditions. Some 20,000 Israelis live on the Golan.

Y.U. wants to be on Brit boycott list, too

Yeshiva University has requested that it be included on the list of Israeli universities that British academics are proposing to boycott. In a statement released by the university Monday, university President Richard Joel blasted the proposed boycott, calling it a “hypocritical act” and a “threat to open societies.”

“This boycott is a threat not only to Israeli academics but also to open societies everywhere,” Joel said.

The Y.U. statement comes amid a growing backlash against the boycott of Israeli academic institutions proposed late last month by the University and College Union, Britain’s largest university teachers association.

Through advertising campaigns and articles in leading journals, Jewish leaders have fired back at an initiative that even many British academics are said to oppose. The presidents of Britain’s leading research universities also issued a statement opposing the move, and members of the British government have also come out against it.

Rome protesters picket Nazi’s workplace

One hundred protestors flanked a Rome attorney’s office where a convicted Nazi was beginning his first day of work. A judge has allowed Erich Priebke, 93, who was convicted in 1997 of participating in a 1944 massacre outside Rome that killed 335 civilians, to leave his home, where he is under house arrest, to work as a translator and clerical assistant in his attorney’s office.

Monday’s protesters, some of whom shouted “murderer,” expressed outrage that a Nazi war criminal had been granted such freedom, including the ability to freely leave his office for lunch, Reuters reported. “People say, ‘It’s enough now,'” a protester said. “Enough of what? Nothing should be enough; there can never be enough grief.”

Sir Yitzchak Newton’s Jewish interests on display in Israel

Sir Isaac Newton’s lesser-known interest in Jewish mysticism is on display at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which on Sunday unveiled manuscripts by the 18th-century physicist. In the documents, Newton discusses prophecy, the ancient Jewish temple and Hebrew prayer.

“These manuscripts back up speculations that Sir Isaac Newton was a Grand Master of the Priory of Sion secret society (1691-1727), a post also said to have been held by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Victor Hugo, and which inspired Dan Brown’s bestseller ‘The Da Vinci Code,'” the university said in a statement.

The manuscripts, which have never been shown to the public, were obtained privately and donated to Israel in 1951 by orientalist Abraham Shalom Ezekiel Yahuda. They were entrusted to the Hebrew University, which kept them under wraps until recently. Of special interest in this exhibition are Newton’s comments on a text by Maimonides and the Hebrew prayer Shema, as well as his prediction that the world would end in 2060.

Wiesel seeks recognition for Shoah activists

Elie Wiesel urged the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to acknowledge the rescue efforts of the Bergson Group.

In an address Sunday to the Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in New York, Wiesel said he was “disappointed” that the museum’s exhibits did not mention the Bergson Group, a cadre of American activists that lobbied the U.S. government and is credited with saving 200,000 Jews during the Holocaust. The group is mentioned only briefly in a film strip and in an article on the museum’s Web site.

Wiesel’s call was seconded by Seymour Reich, president of the Israel Policy Forum and formerly the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, according to a press release.

“I have come here today, as a veteran of the Jewish establishment, to say unequivocally: the Jewish leaders in the 1940s were wrong,” Reich said. “They should not have spent their time and energy attacking Bergson when they should have been focusing completely on how to bring about the rescue of Europe’s Jews.”

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.