NY Board Says Election Donor Limit Unenforceable

May 27th, 2014

voteNew York’s Board of Elections says the $150,000 limit on state campaign donations by an individual will no longer be enforced following recent federal court decisions.

That means an individual, or limited liability corporation, with deep pockets can contribute to as many statewide and state legislative candidates, political parties and advocacy groups as they wish, subject only to the recipients’ restrictions.

For New York’s statewide races — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller — candidates can accept only $41,100 from an individual for the general election.

The limit is $10,100 for state Senate candidates and $4,100 for the Assembly.

A spokesman says the board — two Republicans and two Democrats — agreed last week the $150,000 individual donor limit is unenforceable, though the $5,000 corporate limit remains in effect.

(AP)

Goldfeder Urges All NYS Insurance Companies to Help Residents Prepare for Potential Future Storms

May 27th, 2014

pgolIn effort to continue to hold insurance companies accountable in the aftermath of Sandy, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway) has called on all top insurance carriers to provide an update on their disaster response measures taken and contingency plans for residents to prepare for potential future storms.

“Worse than the destructive path of Sandy was the complicated insurance process that followed,” said Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder. “Our families’ recovery should not be delayed because companies are overwhelmed and confused by their own policies and regulations. Many insurance carriers agreed to streamline their service and create more transparency after Sandy and now it’s time to hear the changes they made.”

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder sent a letter inviting all the major insurance carriers to discuss their policy improvements at a public forum and educate residents on their own insurance coverage in the event of another disaster. When Sandy hit in 2012, thousands of Queens families and businesses were destroyed and held in limbo for months by the same insurance companies that were supposed to be helping them rebuild. We must ensure these companies have put in place the necessary changes to prepare themselves and their customers for future disasters, Goldfeder noted.

“After a storm the last thing a homeowner needs is to struggle with their insurance carrier, this should be the easy part of recovery, I am curious to see how much change they are willing to implement,” said Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14.

In June 2013, Assemblyman Goldfeder and his colleagues passed a comprehensive Sandy insurance legislative package to reform the insurance process and hold insurance companies to a higher standard of accountability. Included in the package was the homeowner’s bill of rights which would educate consumers about property and casualty insurance coverage, provide them with easy-to-understand policies and require the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to establish a Consumer’s Guide on Insuring Against Catastrophic Loss.
“We can’t prevent another disaster, but we can help ensure that our families and businesses are protected from any unfair insurance practices,” concluded Goldfeder. “This is one step that will help educate our community and continue to hold insurance companies accountable. I strongly urge all insurance carriers to attend my public forum and immediately provide an update on how they intend to help customers in the event of another disaster.”

(YWN Desk – NYC)

Hacker Who Helped Feds to Be Freed From Prison

May 27th, 2014

hackA computer hacker who helped the government disrupt hundreds of cyberattacks on Congress, NASA and other sensitive targets and cripple the hacktivist crew known as Anonymous will be freed from prison after being sentenced Tuesday to time served.

Prosecutors had detailed Hector Xavier Monsegur’s cooperation in court papers while asking a judge to reward him with leniency. He had spent seven months behind bars.

Working around the clock with FBI agents at his side, Monsegur “provided, in real time, information about then-ongoing computer hacks and vulnerabilities in significant computer systems,” prosecutors wrote. The FBI estimates he helped detect at least 300 separate hacks, preventing millions of dollars in losses.

He was arrested and pleaded guilty in 2011.

Monsegur first began hacking in a Manhattan apartment in the early 2000s, according to court papers. His aim then was to steal credit card information, then sell it or use it to pay his own bills.

In a 2011 interview with an online magazine, Monsegur said he decided to join forces with Anonymous because he was upset over the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Starting in early 2011 and using the alias Sabu, Monsegur led an Anonymous splinter group called Lulz Security, or LulzSec, which hacked the computer systems of Fox television, Nintendo, PayPal and other businesses, stole private information and bragged about its exploits online.

The group was loosely affiliated with Jeremy Hammond, the FBI’s most wanted cybercriminal, whose stated objective was to cause mayhem with the attacks, prosecutors said.

When FBI agents showed up at Monsegur’s home in the summer of 2011, he immediately agreed to cooperate, giving the FBI a tutorial on the inner workings and participants of LulzSec and Anonymous, prosecutors said.

Under their direction, he “convinced LulzSec members to provide him digital evidence of the hacking activities” and “asked seemingly innocuous questions that … could be used to pinpoint their exact locations and identities,” court papers said.

(AP)

Egged Arrangement on Motzei Shabbos at the Kosel Comes to an End

May 27th, 2014

egednnEgged officials have been notified by the Ministry of Transportation to stop the long-standing arrangement permitting riders on motzei Shabbos to travel from the Kosel without paying the fare. This permitted shomer Shabbos riders to get home to Jerusalem neighborhoods without having to make arrangements before Shabbos. The riders were expected to pay an extra fare during the week to compensate for the motzei Shabbos ride. This permits riders living in frum areas like Geula and Har Nof to return home by bus.

According to Egged, most riders did not make payment during the week and they simply got a free ride on motzei Shabbos. Acting on Egged’s evaluation of the frum motzei Shabbos riders, the ministry has given the order to cancel the arrangement immediately.

This means the many mispallalim arriving at the Kosel for mincha and maariv on Shabbos will have to find a way to get money to make their way home.

Kosel rav Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz expressed surprise upon hearing of the decision, adding it is most ironic that it comes on the week Am Yisrael observes Yom Yerushalayim.

MK (Yahadut Hatorah) R’ Uri Maklev turned to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz to reverse the decision.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Brooklyn: Smoke-Bomb Explodes On Schoolbus, 11 Taken To The Hospital

May 27th, 2014

bAuthorities say a person has been seriously injured when a smoke bomb went off in a Brooklyn school bus.

Fire officials say 11 people were taken to hospitals for observation after the incident Tuesday. Five were treated at the scene

Department of Education spokeswoman Marge Feinberg says the bus was carrying students from the Brooklyn Dreams Charter School.

It happened at 7:22 a.m. Tuesday at Ocean Avenue and Dorchester Road.

Feinberg says the bus company reported that one or two children had set off the firecracker.

(AP)

Turkey Issues an Arrest Warrant for Former IDF Chief & Others

May 27th, 2014

turkisg flagA Turkish court has issued an arrest warrant against four senior IDF commanders serving at the time of the Marvi Mamara incident.

The Istanbul court issued the warrants against former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Naval Commander Rear Admiral Eliezer Merom, Chief of Intelligence Amos Yadlin and Air Intelligence Chief Avishai Levi.

If any of the four lands in Turkey or in any nation that has an extradition treaty with Turkey may be arrested.

Terrorists affiliated with the HNN organization were on board the Marvi Marmara and planned to break the Israeli marine blockade on Gaza. Members of the Shayetet naval commando unit boarded the vessel and refrained from using weapons, believing the members of the flotilla were peaceful civilians. The commandos were attacked and beaten, some sustaining serious injuries until realizing they were dealing with terrorists. Turkey severed relations with Israel over the deaths of a number of its citizens, demanding an Israeli apology.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

US To Keep 9,800 Troops In Afghanistan At Year-End

May 27th, 2014

afghPresident Barack Obama will seek to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the war formally ends later this year and then will withdraw most of those forces by the end of 2016, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

Obama’s decision is largely in line with what military commanders have been seeking and will allow the president to fully end the American-led military effort by the time he leaves office.

The two-year plan is contingent on the Afghan government signing a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. While current Afghan President Hamid Karzai has declined to sign the agreement, U.S. officials are confident that either of the candidates seeking to replace him would give his approval.

The plan calls for the U.S. military to draw down from its current force of 32,000 to 9,800 by the start of next year. Those troops, dispatched throughout Afghanistan, would focus on counterterrorism and the training of Afghan security forces. They would not be engaged in combat missions.

Over the course of next year, the number of troops would be cut in half and consolidated in the capital of Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. Those remaining forces would largely be withdrawn by the end of 2016, with fewer than 1,000 remaining behind to staff a security office in Kabul.

The American forces would probably be bolstered by a few thousand NATO troops. The total NATO presence, including U.S. troops, is expected to be around 12,000 at the start of next year.

Obama was to announce the plan at the White House Tuesday afternoon. He is just back from a surprise weekend trip to Afghanistan where he met with U.S. commanders and American forces serving in the closing months of America’s longest war.

The officials providing details of the announcement insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plan by name ahead of the president.

Top Republicans swiftly criticized the plan before Obama had even announced it publicly, taking issue with Obama’s decision to announce that troops will be out of Afghanistan after 2016.

“President Obama is not ending wars, he’s losing them,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a frequent critic of Obama’s foreign policy, wrote on Twitter.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., praised Obama’s troop levels but questioned his timing and whether the president was replicating actions in Iraq, “where he abandoned the region to chaos.”

“Holding this mission to an arbitrary egg-timer doesn’t make a lick of sense strategically,” McKeon said.

Ahead of his remarks, Obama was expected to speak with Karzai, who has had a tumultuous relationship with the White House. The two leaders did not see each other while Obama was in Afghanistan, but they did speak by phone as Air Force One was returning to Washington.

Obama has also discussed his plans with several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

U.S. military commanders have been arguing for months to keep roughly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, if only for a limited time, while they bolster the Afghan forces’ ability to do long-term logistical planning and increase their air force capabilities. In recent weeks, the military had expressed confidence that they had been able to sell their plans to the White House.

Germany and Italy have said they will continue as lead nations in the north and west of Afghanistan, and there has been some discussion that the U.S. would also have some troops in those areas to work with the allies.

After Karzai refused to sign the bilateral security agreement, Obama asked the Pentagon to plan for the possibility that all American forces would withdraw by a year-end 2014 deadline. But given the supportive comments of the candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential election, Obama signaled during his holiday weekend trip to Bagram that he was likely to keep some American troops in the country.

“After all the sacrifices we’ve made, we want to preserve the gains that you have helped to win, and we’re going to make sure that Afghanistan can never again, ever, be used again to launch an attack against our country,” Obama declared.

At least 2,181 members of the U.S. military have died during the nearly 13-year Afghan war and thousands more have been wounded.

(AP)

BREAKING: Former NYPD Officer Arraigned On 39-Count Indictment For Anti-Semitic Vandalism In Boro Park

May 27th, 2014

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District Attorney Thompson said, “Hate crimes such as these are hurtful and must not be tolerated in a civilized society, particularly in Brooklyn, where we embrace diversity.”

The District Attorney identified the defendant as Michael Setiawan, 36, a former New York City police officer. The defendant was arraigned on Friday, May 23, 2014, before Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Daniel K. Chun, via video conference between the courthouse and Bellevue Hospital, where the defendant has been under observation since his arrest on May 4, 2014. He was ordered held on $75,000 bail and to return to court on May 30, 2014. If convicted, the defendant faces up to four years in prison on each of the hate crime charges.

The District Attorney said that the indictment covers 15 separate acts of vandalism, including nine which are charged as hate crimes. All of the incidents are alleged to have occurred on the night of May 3, 2014, in Borough Park, and were discovered by residents. The defendant is alleged to have used pink spray paint to scrawl graffiti on, among other things, multiple vehicles, storefronts and the Bnos Zion Bobov Elementary School.

The case was investigated by detectives assigned to the New York City Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force.

Senior Assistant District Attorney Ian Bronfeld of the District Attorney’s Investigations Division is prosecuting the case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Charles Guria, Chief of the District Attorney’s Civil Rights Bureau, and the overall supervision of Assistant District Attorney William E. Schaeffer, Chief of the Investigations Division.

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(YWN Desk – NYC)

Rockland County, NY Bus Fare Hikes Approved

May 27th, 2014

rockbThe Rockland County Department of Public Transportation today announced new, phased-in bus fares for the County’s Transport of Rockland (TOR), TAPPAN ZEExpress (TZx) and TRIPS Paratransit buses. The higher fares and electronic passes for TOR and TZx will be introduced in steps, beginning on June 15, 2014.

“We understand how difficult even modest changes to our fares can be to our customers,” said County Executive Day. “And, while we cannot avoid the hikes, the message from the community was heard loud and clear.  We have responded with a phased approach.”

The full list of the new fares is available here.

Public feedback slows the rate of change:

Input from riders indicated that planned increases were too steep in some categories. As a result of the comments received by phone, mail, e-mail and during Public Hearings at the Palisades Center in West Nyack, the decision was made to lower some of the proposed fares and phase-in the increases.  The hikes were initially budgeted for 2013, but never implemented.  The 2014 increases will be the first for Rockland’s bus services since 2011.

A list of new fares with effective dates is available at www.rocklandbus.com.

Proposed TRIPS fares lowered:

  • The proposed TRIPS Paratransit bus “10-Ride Ticket Book” was reduced to $25 and will become effective June 15, 2014. The originally proposed $30 fare will not be implemented for a full year. TRIPS Tickets will be valid for both Regular TRIPS and ADA TRIPS. Current TRIPS tickets will be accepted onboard TRIPS buses until August 31, 2014.
  • The proposed Regular TRIPS Cash Fare was reduced to $3 and will become effective June 15, 2014. The originally proposed $4 Cash Fare for Regular TRIPS will not be implemented for a full year.

Although there was no proposed fare change for the current ADA TRIPS Cash Fare of $4, based on public input, the Department decided to reduce that fare to $3.  The ADA TRIPS Cash Fare may return to $4 in June 2015.

Proposed TOR and TZx fares lowered:

  • The proposed new TOR Unlimited 7-Day E-Pass was reduced to $30, with an effective date later this year (to be determined). The originally proposed $32 fare will not be implemented until 2015.
  • The proposed new TZx Unlimited 30-Day E-Pass was reduced to $100, with an effective date later this year (to be determined). The originally proposed $120 fare will not be implemented until 2015.

In an effort to minimize impact to bus riders, the cash fare for the TOR and TZx services will NOT increase. TOR and TZx Cash Fares remain unchanged at $2 and $3, respectively.

Other new fares that become effective on June 15, 2014 include:

  • Transfers on both TOR and TZx will be $1 (TOR, TZx, Clarkstown MiniTrans, Spring Valley Jitney, OWL buses, I-Bus and Bee-Line buses will continue to cross-honor transfers)
  • Reduced-fare eligible passengers will pay $1 on TOR and $1.50 on TZx (half the regular cash fare)
  • Reduced-fare Transfers will be 50¢ on both TOR and TZx

Medicare cards will still be accepted as proof of eligibility for the Reduced Fare program. Riders eligible for Reduced Fare may also apply for a Reduced Fare Photo ID Card at the Public Transportation Department at the Dr. Robert L. Yeager Health Center, Building T, Pomona.

TZx UniTicket fare:

Effective July 1, 2014, the Metro-North/TZx UniTicket fare will change. The bus portion of the UniTicket will increase to $20 on a weekly UniTicket and $60 on a Monthly UniTicket.  The bus portion of the UniTicket fare has not increased since 2009. (UniTickets are sold by MTA Metro-North Railroad).

SuperSaver Transition to E-Saver Passes:

Taking effect later this year, on a date to be determined, the TOR and TZx E-Saver Passes (electronic fare cards) will replace SuperSaver paper tickets as the County’s volume-discounted bus fare.

  • The TOR E-Saver Pass will provide 11 TOR rides for $20.
  • The TZx E-Saver Pass will provide 11 TZx rides for $30.

In each case, the E-Saver Passes will offer one free ride compared to cash. The TOR E-Saver Pass will also be valid on TZx buses, but a one-dollar express fee must be paid for each ride.

Prior to the E-Saver Passes becoming available, existing SuperSaver paper tickets remain valid. There will also be an ample grace period after the E-Saver Passes become effective, during which the paper tickets may still be used. Riders who currently use SuperSaver tickets will not need to do anything differently until an effective date for the new E-Saver Passes is established.  Paper SuperSaver tickets will continue to be sold at the current fare until further notice.

For the two other new electronic fare types being introduced later this year, the TOR Unlimited 7-Day E-Pass and the TZx Unlimited 30-Day E-Pass will offer an unlimited number of rides during the seven or 30 day time period. The time period for these unlimited passes will begin when the E-Pass is first used on the bus, regardless of the day of the week or month. Those passes will be sold by mail and by the Public Transportation Department at the Dr. Robert L. Yeager Health Center, Building T, Pomona.

In the Fall, the new electronic College Student Unlimited Semester E-Passes will replace the plastic “flash passes” currently in use. Students will simply swipe the E-Pass through the farebox slot each time they ride. A 4-month E-Pass will cost $120.

The new fares have been posted onboard TOR, TZx and TRIPS buses, at transit hubs throughout the County, and on the Department’s website at www.rocklandbus.com, where TOR and TZx schedules and links to other transit systems are also available. For trip planning assistance, call the Transit Information Center at (845) 364-3333, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

(YWN Desk – NYC)

MK Gafne Lashes Out Against Supreme Court Justice Rubinstein

May 27th, 2014

gafniMK (Yahadut Hatorah) R’ Moshe Gafne launched a harsh verbal attack against Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein. The judge is a member of the dati leumi community and the judge who wrote the opinion in this week’s ruling halting supplementary payments to avreichim.

In his address from the Knesset podium R’ Gafne referred to Justice Rubinstein as the “Rosha who stole the bread away from the children”. Gafne explained that the court’s ruling will impact the avreichim and their families that have nothing. “Not those who learn and the wives work and they have an apartment, but those who have nothing and will now have even less”. He called the court’s ruling “cruel”, one that will leave a growing number of children without the basics, not even a slice of bread.

He stressed that these avreichim, the poorest of the poor, will now be left with absolutely nothing and without the means to provide the basic sustenance to their children.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Clinton Proud of Diplomatic Accomplishments

May 27th, 2014

hilHillary Rodham Clinton writes in new excerpts from her upcoming book that she wishes she could go back and reconsider some of her past decisions but she is “proud of what we accomplished” during her time as secretary of state.

Clinton, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, writes in an author’s note released Tuesday that her four years running the State Department for President Barack Obama taught her about the United States’ “exceptional strengths and what it will take for us to compete and thrive at home and abroad.”

“As is usually the case with the benefit of hindsight, I wish we could go back and revisit certain choices. But I’m proud of what we accomplished,” Clinton writes. “This century began traumatically for our country, with the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the long wars that followed, and the Great Recession. We needed to do better, and I believe we did.”

“Hard Choices,” Clinton’s book about her time at the State Department, will be released June 10. The book arrives as the former first lady considers another White House campaign and as Republicans seek to question her handling of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, and other decisions on her watch.

In the excerpts, Clinton writes that she didn’t write the book for followers of “Washington’s long-running soap opera,” but Americans and people everywhere who are trying to make sense of a rapidly changing world.

Clinton aims to recount her tenure as the nation’s top diplomat in terms that average Americans can understand, writing that everyone faces hard choices on how to balance their careers with family responsibilities. “Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become. For leaders and nations, they can mean the difference between war and peace, poverty and prosperity,” she wrote.

When she chose to move to Arkansas and marry future president Bill Clinton and start a family, Clinton writes that “my friends asked, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ I heard similar questions when I took on health care reform as first lady, ran for office myself, and accepted” Obama’s offer to become secretary of state.

Clinton says the need to keep America “safe, strong, and prosperous presents an endless set of choices, many of which come with imperfect information and conflicting imperatives.” She cites Obama’s decision to authorize the raid to capture Osama bin Laden as a leading example, noting that the president’s top advisers were divided and the intelligence “was compelling, but far from definitive. The risks of failure were daunting.”

Clinton writes, “It was as crisp and courageous a display of leadership as I’ve ever seen.”

If she runs for president, the author’s note offers clues to how Clinton may characterize the nation’s role in the 21st century. She writes that “talk of America’s decline has become commonplace, but my faith in our future has never been greater. While there are few problems in today’s world that the United States can solve alone, there are even fewer that can be solved without the United States.”

“Everything that I have done and seen has convinced me that America remains the ‘indispensable nation.’ I am just as convinced, however, that our leadership is not a birthright. It must be earned by every generation,” she writes.

In speeches, Clinton has often derided partisanship and gridlock in the nation’s capital, a theme that she is expected to revisit in the book. She writes the nation will continue to play a vital role around the globe, “so long as we stay true to our values and remember that, before we are Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, or any of the other labels that divide us as often as define us, we are Americans, all with a personal stake in our country.”

Clinton says in making the major decisions of her life, she has “listened to both my heart and my head. I followed my heart to Arkansas; it burst with love at the birth of our daughter, Chelsea; and it ached with the losses of my father and mother. My head urged me forward in my education and professional choices.”

“And my heart and head together sent me into public service,” Clinton writes. “Along the way, I’ve tried not to make the same mistake twice, to learn, to adapt, and to pray for the wisdom to make better choices in the future.”

(AP)

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto Returns Home – Expected to Give Testimony

May 27th, 2014

pintoRabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto has returned to Israel and he is expected to give testimony to police investigators this morning, Tuesday, 27 Iyar 5774. Rav Pinto is a suspect in a major bribery fraud case involving senior police commanders. The investigation against them is being spearheaded by Israel Police’s 433 Unit, Israel’s equivalent of the FBI.

According to the information being released, Pinto has struck a deal with the state prosecutor and he will be testifying as a state witness. Rav Pinto has been working to cut a deal by which he would incriminate the former commander of the 433 Unit, Menashe Arbiv, and in exchange for his information receive immunity. The prosecution however is seeking a one-year prison term for Pinto despite his willingness to cooperate.

Commando Arbiv was compelled to resign his senior post amid harsh allegations of accepting large sums in bribes from Rav Pinto. Arbiv insists that it is Rav Pinto who accepted the money and the rabbi is now seeking to cut a deal to save his skin. The sum allegedly accepted by one of the defendants is 200,000 shekels.

There is a considerable amount of criticism surrounding the state’s willingness to deal with Rav Pinto as many feel the senior police commander who has dedicated his life to public service should have been given the first opportunity to become a state witness and not the rabbi.

Rav Pinto sent a message to his talmidim and followers that in a moment the truth and justice will become apparent to all regarding the criminal allegations against him.

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)

Chemical Weapons Inspectors Attacked In Syria

May 27th, 2014

chwA convoy of chemical weapons inspectors came under attack Tuesday while traveling to the site of a suspected chlorine gas attack in Syria, but all staff members were safe, the international watchdog agency said.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been working with the United Nations to oversee the destruction of the Syrian government’s stockpiles since September 2013, when President Bashar Assad’s administration acknowledged it has chemical weapons and agreed to give them up to avoid the threat of U.S. military strikes.

Syria has since destroyed or handed over more than 90 percent of the weapons and toxic chemicals it has formally declared. Its sole remaining declared stockpile has been packaged for shipment out of the country to meet a June 30 deadline for destruction.

However, last month allegations surfaced that chlorine gas has been used as a weapon in fighting between the government and rebels. Chlorine is not banned under chemical weapons conventions, and it was not part of Syria’s disclosures. However, using any toxic material in warfare violates chemical weapons treaties and international law.

The circumstances of Tuesday’s attack were unclear. Syria’s Foreign Ministry initially reported that 11 people, including six members of a U.N. fact-finding mission and their Syrian drivers, had been abducted by rebels fighting to topple Assad’s regime. But the OPCW issued a statement shortly afterward saying a convoy had come under attack but “all team members are safe and well and are travelling back to the operating base.”

Opposition activists could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said the convoy, which consisted of four vehicles, was heading toward the rebel-held town of Kfar Zeita where activists and Human Rights Watch reported gas attacks on April 11 and April 18 that killed two people.

It said the government had agreed to a daylong cease-fire in the town in the central province of Hama “to facilitate the work of this mission.” As the team reached the nearby government-controlled village of Taibet al-Imam, the government said it was unable to provide protection beyond that point but the team decided to continue without Syrian security forces, according to the statement.

A roadside bomb then hit one of the team’s vehicles, forcing the passengers to move to another car and turn back toward Taibet al-Imam, the ministry said. The ministry said only one vehicle arrived in the village, which is under government control, a fact that might have caused Damascus to issue the statement saying the rest had been abducted.

A doctor in Kfar Zeita who identified himself as Abdullah Darwish said the team had been expected to arrive in the village on Tuesday and medical officials had prepared for them documents as well as a number of people who suffered during the alleged chlorine attack. But the main rebel group the Free Syrian Army later said the inspection team wouldn’t be coming, Darwish told The Associated Press via Skype.

The OPCW Director-General Ambassador Ahmet Uzumcu expressed concern about the attack, repeating his call to all parties for cooperation with the mission.

“Our inspectors are in Syria to establish the facts in relation to persistent allegations of chlorine gas attacks,” Uzumcu said. “Their safety is our primary concern, and it is imperative that all parties to the conflict grant them safe and secure access.”

The Geneva-based OPCW, which monitors the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and oversees the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, had sent a team to Damascus this month to investigate claims that chlorine has been used in Hama. The U.N. Security Council authorized the OPCW to oversee a fact-finding investigation into the alleged gas attacks.

The Syrian government has agreed to cooperate with the inspectors and their U.N. security detachment in the parts of the country it controls.

In August, a U.N. team that was trying to reach a Damascus suburb following a chemical weapons attack came under fire. Both the government and the opposition blamed each other for that attack. No one was hurt in the attack and the inspectors eventually arrived in Moadamiyeh, a western suburb of Damascus.

(AP)

Tuesday Morning Violence on Har Habayis

May 27th, 2014

hhaA policeman was injured lightly when Arabs pelted police with rocks on Har Habayis. Jews were visiting the holy site and the Arabs began shouting at them, compelling police to intervene. The Arabs then began attacking police.

Police permitted the Jews to continue with their visit.

The group in this latest incident was comprised of 30 dati leumi rabbonim. This included Rabbi Gideon Pearl (Rav of Alon Shvut), Rav Avraham Gisar (Rav of Yishuv Ofra), Rav Yitzhak Levy (Alon Shvut), Rabbi David Dudkevitz (Rav Yishuv Yitzhar), Rav Yaakov Medan (Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion), Rav Yehuda Kroizer (Rav of Yishuv Mitzpei Yericho), Rav Yisrael Rosen (Zomet Institute), Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon (Rav Alon Shvut South), Rav Yisrael Ariel (Temple Institute) and others. The rabbonim visited as this week Israel observes Yom Yerushalayim.

The rabbonim discussed the Halacha pertaining to one visiting Har Habayis and the different piskei Halacha. They stress that visiting Har Habayis is permitted amid a realization one must be aware of the kedusha of the site and visitation must be within the framework of Halacha. They explain that one may not visit the area where the Mikdosh was located because today we are all ‘tamei meis’. They explain this is why one may not approach the center of Har Habayis, especially the Dome of the Rock, which we believe is the location of Kodesh Kedoshim. The rabbonim stressed the importance of adhering to Halacha and one that does not chas v’sholom incur karess.

The attacks against Jewish visitors are commonplace as they usually result in police rushing the visitors off the area. Hence the Muslims have learned that by becoming violent and offensive they will succeed in removing the Jews from the site. In this case they were permitted to continue with their visit.

Ironically, Yariv Oppenheimer, the director-general of the radical left-wing Peace Now organization criticized the rabbis, pointing out to them that Rav Kook ZT”L opposed visiting Har Habayis. While Oppenheimer is not motivated by concern for Halacha, his statement is in line with the ruling of Maran HaGaon HaRav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv ZT”L and other poskim prohibiting Jews from visiting Har Habayis. This is also the position of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Oppenheimer wrote on his Facebook page “The settler leadership continues to recreate Yiddishkheit”.

He added that after some dati leumi rabbonim permitted construction in yishuvim on Shabbos and there was the psak permitting the murder of nochrim and now the heter to visit Har Habayis.

Oppenheimer continues “I am not a religious person and regarding freedom of religion in holy sites, this is an integral component of the peace agreement which we back. However it is sad to see how people from the religious Zionist camp create a new religion to adapt the political struggle that they are running”. He points out in the cases mentioned the rulings of dati leumi rabbonim are in contradiction of “Gedolei Yisrael and it appears in the name of settlements and the struggle with the Palestinians everything is permitted, even changing Halacha.”

(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)