On Israel's Memorial Day, Ehud Olmert vowed not to repeat past mistakes in obtaining the release of captured Israeli soldiers. At a memorial service Monday for victims of terrorism, the Israeli prime minister said that "in the range of heavy and agonizing considerations involved there is, of course, an honorable place for consideration of your feelings and those of the bereaved families."
Olmert did not specify the release of terrorists in previous prisoner swaps, but vowed "never to repeat the mistakes made in the past, the result of which was an increase in terrorism and the return of released terrorists to acts of terror which took the lives of many Israeli citizens."
Earlier, at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Olmert promised the families of fallen soldiers that he would do everything possible to obtain the release of soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, taken by Hezbollah in July, and Gilad Shalit, kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen in June.
"We will take advantage of every chance, we will be prepared for far-reaching compromises, and even for very painful concessions, as long as our vital and existential interests are safeguarded, in order to fulfill our burning ambition for peace," he said.
On Monday morning, Israelis stood silent as sirens wailed throughout the country for two minutes to mark Yom HaZikaron. Memorial Day ends Monday evening with a torch-lighting ceremony on Mount Herzl, followed by Independence Day celebrations.
Katsav Denied Early Access to Materials
Israel's High Court of Justice denied Moshe Katsav's petition to obtain early access to materials on his sexual misconduct case. Ha'aretz reported that the suspended Israeli president had requested the materials from the investigation leading up to a May hearing in which he will defend himself against allegations including rape.
After the hearing, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz will decide whether to indict Katsav. Justices Dorit Beinisch, Miriam Naor and Esther Hayut ruled that "the right to view investigative material takes effect once an indictment is filed. We do not accept the petitioner's argument that one who requests a hearing has the right to view investigative material to the last detail," Ha'aretz reported.
Katsav was suspended from his presidency after the scandal broke. He is immune from prosecution while he holds office, but has vowed to step down if indicted.
Israeli Population Hits 7.15 Million
Israel's population rose 1.8 percent in the past 12 months to 7.15 million, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported. The increase was attributed mainly to a high birthrate. Some 148,000 babies were born in 2006, and 18,400 immigrants arrived. Israel's 5,415,000 Jews, and 310,000 "others" -- primarily Russians and Ethiopians who made aliyah but aren't halachically Jewish -- make up nearly 80 percent of the population.
Some 1.42 million Arab and Druse citizens comprise the remaining 20 percent of the population. When the Jewish state was established in 1948, there were 806,000 residents. A third of them are still living in the country. The bureau released the data ahead of Independence Day, which begins Monday evening.
Neo-Nazis Protest March of the Living
Neo-Nazi demonstrators protested the March of the Living in Krakow, according to a Jewish organization. During the March of the Living, 200 people participated in an April 14 march staged by the far-right National Radical Camp, a tiny extremist group. The participants held "Heil Hitler" signs and shouted "This is Poland, not Israel," "Poland is a saintly thing" and "Jews out of Poland," according to the Warsaw-based Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.
The demonstration in Krakow Market Square took place amid foreign tourists, including Israelis who were in Poland for the March of the Living, the foundation reported. The foundation complained that police did not stop the demonstration, despite the Nazi slogans, which are illegal in Poland. The demonstrators reportedly were outnumbered by 250 anti-racism protesters led by local nongovernmental organizations.
Vandals Paint Star of David on Lenin
On the eve of the 137th anniversary of Lenin's birth, vandals painted a Star of David onto a large statue of the Soviet leader in southern Russia. Interfax news agency reported that Sunday's incident took place in Rostov-on-Don. The perpetrators have not been found and the motive was unclear.
"Lenin's hands on his monument in Gorky Park were covered with dye and a Star of David was painted on it," a city official told Interfax. Lenin, who led the 1917 revolution that founded the Soviet Union, was of mixed Jewish descent, but he was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church and was extremely hostile to organized religion in general, preaching a fierce atheism.
Lenin continues to enjoy substantial support in today's Russia, ranking third in popularity among Russian leaders since 1917 in a 2006 poll by the ROMIR sociological service.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.