NEWS BRIEFS

Crosses of shame

After centuries of antisemitic persecution waged in the name of the church and under the sign of the cross, the sacred Christian symbol has become to Jews a symbol of death. Directors of Israel's memorial to the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust called on the Polish government in early August to remove some 50 crosses put up just outside the walls of the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz. Yad Vashem directors said the crosses—part of a campaign which ultimately aims at having 152 crosses at the site to commemorate each of the Poles executed there by the Nazis—were a "provocative act" that violated an international accord under which no religious, ideological or political symbols would be erected at the site. Israeli Cabinet secretary Danny Naveh met Polish ambassador Wojciech Adamiecki to ask that the crosses be removed. The Nazis killed 1,5 million people, most of them Jews, at Auschwitz.

PA cabinet reshuffle farce

PA cabinet ministers Hanan Ashrawi and Abdul Jawad Salah resigned on August 6 in protest against Yasser Arafat's decision not to fire ministers accused of corruption in a long-overdue cabinet reshuffle. Arafat simply brought in ten new ministers, and retained three linked to financial impropriety. The changes were announced to jeers from assembled lawmakers, who have been calling for change since 1997 when an official auditing report alleged widespread corruption and waste. Despite this reaction, however, the legislative council voted in favour of the new cabinet. Detractors said the decision "spreads corruption and protects it". Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein said "the basis for these changes is the need to cope with the situation as relates to Israel more than the need to deal with the internal Palestinian situation."

Why there may 'never be justice for Lockerbie'

Two Libyan security officials accused of involvement in the bombing of PanAm's Flight 103 agreed last month to stand trial in the Netherlands for the murder of 270 people over Lockerbie in Scotland in December 1988. The two conditionally accepted the idea of a courtcase in The Hague under Scottish law, in return for the lifting of UN sanctions on Libya, imposed in 1992 after Muammar Ghaddafi refused to hand the suspects over for trial. British Foreign Office officials said discussions were continuing. But not everyone is convinced a trial will ever take place. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph on July 26, Alasdair Palmer argued that a trial was not in the ultimate interests of the Libyans, the Americans or the British. "The Libyans could not afford a guilty verdict—that would immediately confirm the nation's status as world pariah. The British and Americans could not afford an acquittal, for that would raise the question that they are extremely eager to avoid, if the Libyans didn't do it, who did?" A number of books published about the bombing have put forward evidence that Iran and a Palestinian terror group operating in Damascus with the support of the Syrian regime collaborated in carrying out the attack. Last July, a senior dissident Iranian intelligence operative said Tehran had ordered the bombing to avenge the accidental shooting down by a US warship of an Iranian passenger jet over the Straits of Hormuz, killing 290 people. Iran denied the charge. Wrote Palmer: "The unofficial view of British and American intelligence services has long been that the Iranians were behind the attack … that is not a theory that the Americans or the British want the world to hear. America is trying to "normalise" relations with Iran, while Syria is still the official ally of both America and Britain, having picked the right side in the Gulf War … it seems unlikely that a trial will ever take place. Too many states have too much that they need to keep secret for that to happen."

SA minister snubs PM

The most senior South African government official to visit Israel since the landmark 1994 elections used the opportunity to snub PM Binyamin Netanyahu. Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad did so by conveying President Nelson Mandela's invitation to visit Pretoria to President Ezer Weizman, rather than to Netanyahu. His artful explanation—"Presidents invite presidents, that's the way it works''—didn't wash on two counts. Weizman's is a ceremonial position, not an executive one like Mandela's. And besides, Pahad also invited Labour leader Ehud Barak to visit. The not-so-subtle slight is the result of Mandela's unhappiness with Netanyahu's handling of the Oslo process. Although Israel remains South Africa's most important trading partner in the region, the pro-PLO ANC government has adopted an increasingly critical approach. The Johannesburg Star (July 16) reported that Pahad was understood to have returned from his regional visit "convinced that South Africa's principal position on the Middle East is morally correct. He is sure that South Africa's policy is not anti-Israeli. There is full recognition of Israel's right to exist within secure boundaries." Mandela has put off several scheduled visits to Israel, purportedly for health reasons.

Saddam ... again

Israelis had a sense of déjà vu in early August when security officials advised citizens to ensure their gasmasks were in order, following yet another heating up of the situation in Iraq. Disarmament talks broke down after chief UN arms inspector Richard Butler refused demands by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to declare officially that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction. Aziz then declined to discuss Butler's proposals for further chemical and biological weapons inspections. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said he hoped the matter would be quickly resolved. In February, Annan negotiated a deal in which Iraq promised UN inspectors free access, averting US threats of a punitive attack.
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