Iranian man given death penalty for spying for Israel

News

 An Iranian man has been handed the death penalty on charges of spying for Israel. Ali Ashtari, 45, had supposedly passed classified military and defence information to the Mossad intelligence agency. Israel said it had no knowledge of the case.

 Israeli human-rights organisation B'tselem warned of a grave water shortage this summer in the West Bank, which risks repercussions for the economy and the health of tens of thousands of Palestinians. Per-capita consumption of water in the West Bank now stands at 66 litres a day, about two-thirds of the World Health Organization's recommended minimum.

 A new US Ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, is to take up his position next month. A career diplomat whose last posting was as the US consul general in Hong Kong, he replaces Richard Jones, who will leave on July 11, after three years in the position.

 The Knesset approved the referendum law, which makes any withdrawal from any territory under Israeli control dependent on a national referendum or a two-thirds Knesset majority. It was approved in its first reading by 65 MKs to 18.

 A Balad MK, Said Nafaa, has petitioned the High Court to overturn a new law banning those who have visited an "enemy state" from serving in the Israeli parliament. The bill means that anyone who has travelled to states including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon cannot be elected to political office.

 Israel and Syria resumed indirect talks in Istanbul, with a fourth round likely to begin in the next two weeks. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad are due to attend the same summit in Paris later this month but a public meeting has been deemed unlikely.

 Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak shook hands and chatted with the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, at a socialist conference in Greece. The two were introduced by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

 A government committee has warned that a large earthquake may hit northern Israel in the near future. Hospitals in the north have been warned to be prepared for mass casualties in the event of such a natural disaster, although the authorities insisted there was no need for public panic.

 The majority of Israeli Jews -76 per cent - believe it is safer to live as a Jew in Israel than in the diaspora, according to the third annual Survey of Contemporary Israeli Attitudes toward World Jewry, conducted by B'nai B'rith. But 82 per cent believe that recent political scandals have damaged their country's image abroad.

Arts

 A collection of rare books previously confiscated by Saddam Hussein's secret police have been brought from Iraq to Israel. Some 300 manuscripts, including a 1487 commentary on Job, were smuggled into the country after the 2003 US-led campaign to remove the Iraqi dictator.

 This weekend sees the fourth annual White Night festival in Tel Aviv, taking in dozens of events from music and food to entertainment and architecture. As well as a giant street party in the Jaffa flea market and performances at the Opera House running until 3am, 50 of the city's iconic Bauhaus buildings will be lit up for the night.

 Actor John Malkovich is one of the stars slated to attend this year's International Film Festival in
Jerusalem, which begins on July 10. Other guests are to include British director Michael Winterbottom, who is due to receive a prize for his work. Celebrating its 25th year, the festival's theme will be children and teenagers, with screenings and workshops targeted to appeal to these audiences.

Business

 Tourism has soared in Haifa two years after the Second Lebanon War, outpacing nationwide tourism and up 30 per cent since last summer. Hotels in the northern city made 120,000 bookings between January and May this year, as compared to 93,000 bookings across the rest of the country. Hoteliers are planning to build an additional 1,800 rooms in 10 hotels to keep up with demand.

 Israel and Italy signed an "open skies" agreement to allow airlines to compete for routes between the two countries, in a deal expected to lower flight costs and boost the number of flights. The deal is also expected to lower fares and improve travel scheduling, with a third airline to be allowed to operate in addition to El Al and Alitalia.

 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was among the dignitaries at the opening of a new Intel microprocessor plant in southern Israel, in Kiryat Gat's industrial park. The $3.5 billion (£1.75 billion) facility, known as Fab 28, is set to produce its first chips in seven weeks.

Last updated: 4:34pm, September 23 2009