Israel News: Latest news from Israel

Israeli astronaut

Son of late Israeli astronaut dies in plane crash

JERUSALEM – The son of an Israeli astronaut who died in the space shuttle Columbia disaster six years ago was killed Sunday when his F-16 warplane crashed on a routine training flight, the Israeli military said.

The military identified the dead pilot as Lt. Asaf Ramon, son of Ilan Ramon, Israel's first and only astronaut. Ilan Ramon was one of the seven crew members killed when the Columbia exploded as it re-entered the atmosphere after a mission in space.

A former fighter pilot who took part in Israel's bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, Ilan Ramon had been the payload specialist on the 2003 space flight. He is seen in Israel as a national hero, and Israeli radio and TV stations broke into their broadcasts Sunday to report the news of his son's death.

The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, arrived at the family's home along with the air force commander shortly after the news was made public.

Ilan Ramon's fighter jet crashed south of the West Bank city of Hebron. A Palestinian eyewitness told Channel 2 TV that the plane flew over the southern West Bank at low altitude before crashing.

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Israeli archaeologists

Rare medieval Hebrew prayer book to go on display

JERUSALEM – A rare Hebrew manuscript written in 14th century Germany is going on display for the first time, just before the Jewish New Year, Israel Museum officials said Wednesday.

The text, called the Nuremberg Mahzor, is one of the largest surviving medieval texts in the world. Written in 1331 in Germany, the prayer book remains mostly intact — only seven of its original 528 leaves are missing. Officials said the 1,042-page manuscript will be on display at the Israel Museum starting next Tuesday, days before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year holiday, which begins Sept. 18.

The book has 22 illuminations inlaid with gold and silver. The text includes one of the largest collections of handwritten Ashkenazi, or northern European, prayers and liturgical poems. About 100 have never before been published. Also, rabbinical commentary is printed in the margins.

The manuscript is one of the heaviest surviving texts from the period, weighing more than 57 pounds (26 kilograms). It probably took about one year to complete, said Michael Maggen, the head of the paper conservation laboratory at the Israel Museum.

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Israeli archaeologists

Israeli archaeologists find ancient fortification

JERUSALEM – Israel said Friday it will construct hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements before any slowdown in building, an announcement that drew harsh criticism from Washington, which demands a complete settlement freeze as a prelude to renewing Mideast peace talks.

Israeli officials painted the move as a concession to the U.S. demand because it might bring a temporary halt to other construction. But since it would also mean building the new units and finishing some 2,500 others now under construction, it looked more like defiance than acquiescence.

Israel's proposal also does not include any freeze in building in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope to make their future capital. The Obama administration's response did not mince words.

"We regret the reports of Israel's plans to approve additional settlement construction," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement Friday.

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Israeli archaeologists

Israeli archaeologists find ancient fortification

JERUSALEM – Archaeologists digging in Jerusalem have uncovered a 3,700-year-old wall that is the oldest example of massive fortifications ever found in the city, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

The 26-foot-high wall is believed to have been part of a protected passage built by ancient Canaanites from a hilltop fortress to a nearby spring that was the city's only water source and vulnerable to marauders.

The discovery marks the first time archaeologists have found such massive construction from before the time of Herod, the ruler behind numerous monumental projects in the city 2,000 years ago, and shows that Jerusalem of the Middle Bronze Age had a powerful population capable of complex building projects, said Ronny Reich, director of the excavation and an archaeology professor at the University of Haifa.

The wall dates to the 17th century B.C., when Jerusalem was a small, fortified enclave controlled by the Canaanites, one of the peoples the Bible says lived in the Holy Land before the Hebrew conquest. The kingdom thought to have been ruled from Jerusalem by the biblical King David is usually dated to at least seven centuries later.

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Hamas leader denies Nazi genocide of Jews

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A Hamas spiritual leader on Monday called teaching Palestinian children about the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews a "war crime," rejecting a reported U.N. proposal to include the Holocaust in Gaza's school curriculum.

A senior Israeli official said such statements should make the West think twice about ending its boycott of Hamas, in place since the group seized Gaza by force in 2007.

Hamas spiritual leader Younis al-Astal lashed out after hearing that the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the main U.N. body aiding Palestinian refugees, planned to introduce lessons about the Holocaust to Gaza students.

Adding the Holocaust to the curriculum would amount to "marketing a lie and spreading it," al-Astal wrote in a statement. "I do not exaggerate when I say this issue is a war crime, because of how it serves the Zionist colonizers and deals with their hypocrisy and lies," he wrote.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri also objected to including what he referred to as the "so-called Holocaust" in the lesson plan. "We think it's more important to teach Palestinians the crimes of the Israeli occupation," he said.

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Peres urges youth to protest against discrimination

President Shimon Peres on Thursday called on young leaders to protest against the failure to integrate 102 students of Ethiopian descent in religious schools in Petah Tikva, on the backdrop of threats made by parents' committees in the city not to open the school year.

Speaking at a conference of the Lead project in the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel, the president told 400 10th graders, "If I were you, I would get on a bus and travel to Petah Tikva immediately, to demonstrate against those opposing the integration of Ethiopian students in three of the city's schools."

Asked by one of the teenagers about ways to influence social procedures in the country, Peres said, "Let me give you a concrete example – the refusal to admit Ethiopian students into schools is a disgrace no person in Israel can accept.

"As the president of this state, I strongly condemn it and hope the school year will open as planned in Petah Tikva and that no discrimination against any student will be allowed in the State of Israel. The youth has a huge amount of power in pushing processes forward, so don't hesitate – make your voices heard." Readmore

Israelis Palestinians

2 Israelis, 2 Palestinians wounded in Gaza clash

JERUSALEM – At least two Israelis and two Palestinians have been injured in violence on the Gaza-Israel border.

Israeli rescue workers say Palestinians fired two mortar shells from Gaza, slightly wounding two. Channel 10 TV said the two were soldiers. Israel opened fire on Palestinians near the border, wounding two, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Moaiya Hassanain. He said they were farmers, but Israeli media said they were planting explosives.

Hassanain said a third Palestinian was still in the field. Israeli media said he was killed in the exchange.

The Israeli military said only that two mortar shells were fired.

Border incidents between Hamas-ruled Gaza and Israel have been relatively infrequent in recent weeks.

Jewish Peace Now

Report: No sign of West Bank settlement slowdown

JERUSALEM – There is no sign of a slowdown in the construction of homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank despite Israel's announcement that it has stopped approving new building, the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said in a report issued Sunday.

Under U.S. pressure to freeze settlements, Israel indicated last week it had stopped green-lighting new construction projects, part of an attempt to bridge the gap between the two allies. The efforts to achieve an elusive agreement on settlements will continue this week at a London meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell.

But while Peace Now confirms the freeze on approval for new projects, the group's report says settlement construction is continuing and that settlers can easily build thousands of housing units based on old plans that have already been approved.

There is existing permission for the construction of up to 40,000 housing units, the report said. Construction has begun on around 600 new housing units in 2009, it said. "There is no settlement freeze," Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer said.Readmore


Peres: Nasrallah speeches amusing

Israel is not interested in war with Lebanon, with which all conflicts can be resolved through dialogue, President Shimon Peres told Kuwaiti daily al-Rai.

In an interview set to be published Sunday, Peres said that Shiite group Hezbollah serves nothing but its own narrow interests, and that he believes it will continue to fight Israel even if the latter withdraws from the disputed Shebaa Farms and the border village of Ghajar.

According to the president, Israel is aware of the fact the organization has some 80,000 rockets, "Which could lead to a catastrophe for the Lebanese people." He stressed that the weapons used by Hezbollah had been bought with Iranian money and brought to Lebanon through Syria.

Asked what he thought was Hezbollah's raison-d'κtre, Peres replied that the Iran-sponsored group has set up a military force parallel to the Lebanese army and has founded a state within a state.

Referring to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah's frequent speeches, the Israeli president claimed they have become nothing more than a "source of amusement." Readmore


US raps Israel over limit on Palestinian-Americans

JERUSALEM – The United States has complained to Israel over rules that keep Palestinian-Americans from entering Israel, officials said Thursday.

A travel update posted by the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem says that for some time, Israel has not permitted Palestinians who also hold American passports to enter through Israel's Ben-Gurion international airport, requiring that they use the Allenby Bridge land crossing from Jordan directly into the West Bank.

Since spring this year, travelers using the Israeli-controlled bridge crossing have had their passports stamped permitting travel only in Palestinian controlled areas, the update said.

Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabin Hadad said there is a general ban on Palestinians entering Israel and the rules are applied regardless of what other nationalities they might also hold.

"It does not matter if they are American, French or British," she told The Associated Press. "If they are residents of the (Palestinian) territories, then we regard them first and foremost as local residents."Readmore