NEWS BRIEFS:

Galilee, South Lebanon Battered

The South Lebanese Army evacuated the strategic Christian enclave of Jezzine, north of the security zone, in what many locals feared was the first stage of a full Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Hizb'Allah claimed the pullout as a victory, vowing to use Jezzine as a base to continue the struggle to "liberate occupied Lebanon." Reports continue to surface that Hizb'Allah is targeting Lebanese Christians, as 4 Christians have been murdered and others kidnapped in recent weeks. The Shi'ite militia also greeted Ehud Barak's election victory with six waves of Katyusha rockets into Western Galilee. Nine people were wounded and significant property damage was inflicted. Attacks and casualties have mounted throughout the transition period between the Netanyahu and Barak governments, as Hizb'Allah has taken advantage of the democratic turnover of power. The aggressions peaked when three separate Hizb'Allah rocket volleys landed in Kiryat Shmona on June 24, killing two and injuring 6. IDF warplanes retaliated by bombing targets deep in Lebanon, cutting off the main power supply to Beirut and killing 8 civilians. The escalation in tensions quickly receded after this biggest Israeli response in 3 years, as Syria ordered Hizb'Allah to curtail actions even as speculation rises over peace overtures from Damascus.

Russian Immigration Up; Quara Jews Arrive

In a sign that Russian immigration is increasing, the Jewish Agency reported that 4,441 Jews immigrated in May, compared to 2,666 last year. Requests coming out of Russia for initial immigration information have doubled from 2,000 to 4,000 in just one month. Other signals Jews are making the decision to immigrate: a sharp increase in visa applications and a higher participation rate in Hebrew language classes. The rise in anti-Semitism is now the leading factor cited by olim for wanting to immigrate, now at 31% compared to 9% before August 1998. Other factors are economic turmoil and political instability.

Efforts continued to bring approximately 2,600 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. They live in Gundar, a northern province hit hard by famine and war. Ethiopia said it would not permit a "mass operation," but will allow them to leave a few at a time. The first 80 arrived in Israel on June 22. Israel hopes the operation will be complete by year's end. The Defense Ministry flatly denied it exchanged weapons for the freedom of these Quara Jews.

Palestinian Watch

* Voice of Palestine radio broadcasts have increased incitement against Israel since the elections, calling for violent action against Jews. The broadcasts called for demonstrations against Jewish construction in Ras al-Amud, which later turned violent when Palestinians attacked Israeli policemen.

* A Palestinian rights group reported the PA is denying lawyers from human rights organizations access to Palestinian prisoners.

* Israel uncovered a large, sophisticated tunnel linking Sinai with Gaza. The tunnel, the 23rd discovered in two years, was used to smuggle weapons and men into PA autonomous areas.

* In a move to stifle criticism of the regime, the PA cabinet has decided to restrict non-governmental organizations (NGO's), saying they "are doing political work that does not serve the Palestinian people."

Iran Holding Jews as Spies

Twenty-four Jews, including rabbis and teachers, were secretly arrested in Iran sometime in March on charges of "world arrogance" and spying for the US and Israel.

After one was killed in custody and ten released, 13 Jews remain imprisoned, according to recent Iranian and other confirmations. Israel's outgoing Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon was quick to insist "none of them has, or has had in the past, any connection with any Israeli intelligence agency." But Iran's Foreign Ministry announced: "They will stand trial and be judged according to the Iranian Islamic law." (Espionage in Iran is punishable by death. In 1997, Iran hanged two people convicted of spying for Israel and the US.) Numerous world leaders have protested their imprisonment and appealed for their release. As we go to press, Iran has responded that those arrested passed on military secrets to foreigners, and that they will receive a fair trial. Iran has failed to respond yet to a US News & World Report article which maintains that nine of the 13 are not considered spies by Iran.

For over a year now, it appeared Iran was making strides to rebuild relations with America and the West, but this episode may signal an end to that effort. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979 tens of thousands of Persian Jews have left Iran. However, the country is still home to the largest Jewish community in a Muslim country, with between 20,000 and 25,000 Jews living there.


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