Globe Briefs February 4

Globe Briefs February 4

Jerusalem grand mufti condemns Western Wall agreement

The grand mufti of Jerusalem has condemned the agreement approved by Israel’s Cabinet to establish an egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall.

The area next to the Western Wall is “the property of the Islamic Waqf that was taken by the Israeli occupation in 1967,” Sheik Muhammad Hussien said in a statement issued Monday, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Hussien called the decision  “a brutal attack on the Waqf and additional evidence of the Israeli aggression against Muslim holy places, in an attempt to Judaize Jerusalem.”

The Cabinet approved the agreement on Sunday.

2 vehicles belonging to Tennessee Jewish center set on fire

Two vehicles used to transport the elderly and bring meals to senior citizens were set ablaze in the parking lot of a Jewish institution in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The badly burned vehicles were discovered Sunday morning at the city’s Jewish Cultural Center. Both belonged to the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga.

Arson investigators with the Chattanooga Fire Department and investigators with the Chattanooga Police Department are investigating the incident, the local ABC affiliate WTVC reported. It is not known if the incident is a hate crime or a criminal act.

Police are increasing patrols for Jewish centers and synagogues in the area.

Palestinian Authority envoy commemorates Holocaust in Brazil

The ambassador of the Palestinian Authority in Brazil joined several Jewish and non-Jewish officials to commemorate the Holocaust at a ceremony in Brazil’s capital.

“I could not be absent. It is very important to remember this date,” the P.A. envoy, Ibrahim Alzeben, declared at the event in Brasilia in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The ambassadors of Germany, Poland, Russia and Ukraine also attended the Jan. 27 event. The majority of Brazil’s 120,000-strong Jewish community, which is mostly Ashkenazi, has origins in those countries.

However, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was absent for the third year in a row.

“By keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, we alert the present and future generations about the moral abyss we face when prejudice becomes the rule and intolerance becomes the practice,” said the Rousseff statement read by Civil House Minister Jacques Wagner, who is Jewish.

A special recognition was paid to Ben Abraham and Aleksander Laks, the former presidents of the Brazilian Holocaust Survivors Associations in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, who both died in 2015. In an ecumenical moment, a teenage member of an Afro-Brazilian religion who made headlines after she was attacked by stones last year lit one of the menorah candles representing the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

­Israel has not had an ambassador in Brasilia since December. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nomination of Dani Dayan, a former settler leader in the West Bank, remains unapproved by Rousseff since August and has set off a diplomatic row.

Israel’s environmental protection minister pledges ‘drastic’ measures on Haifa pollution

Responding to a new University of Haifa study indicating that pollution from nearby factories may be causing birth defects in the Haifa area, Israel’s environmental protection minister pledged to take “drastic” measures.

On Monday, Avi Gabai convened an emergency meeting with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and said that if additional studies confirm the university’s findings, the government is prepared to close factories if necessary, the Times of Israel reported.

Several oil refineries, power plants and chemical manufacturing factories are located in or near Haifa, which is also a busy shipping hub.

Gabai said the government has a plan to cut pollution in half by 2018, but did not provide details.

While previous studies found higher rates of cancer among Haifa residents than those elsewhere in Israel, the new study, made public on Sunday, also found that newborns in Haifa have smaller-than-average heads and low birth weights.

Last April, hundreds of Haifa residents held demonstrations to protest local pollution following reports that the Health Ministry’s chief of public health services had found that half of the cases of cancer in Haifa children were due to the city’s air pollution.

The new study describes the neighborhoods of Kiryat Haim, Kiryat Bialik and southeast Kiryat Tivon as the epicenters of pollution-related disorders, and says residents there are five times more likely to develop lung cancer and lymphoma than those living elsewhere in the country, according to the Times of Israel.

Haifa is Israel’s third-largest city and its most ethnically mixed. Approximately 10 percent of the city’s population is Arab-Israeli.