Friday, July 14, 2006

Local families with Mideast ties keep eyes on battlefront

Friday, July 14, 2006
By George Jaksa • 810.766.6332

FLINT - Spreading Mideast violence hit home Thursday for a local family whose son came close to being hit by a rocket fired into northern Israel.

On Thursday, Israelis bombed the Beirut airport and other locations in Lebanon on a course of action sparked by the capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas-linked militants more than two weeks ago. Earlier this week, two more Israeli soldiers were captured after a Hezbollah cross-border raid.

Israel also imposed a naval blockade on Lebanon to cut off supply routes to Lebanese militants. It threatened to strike anywhere in Lebanon, including

the city of Beirut, if

the Lebanese government fails to rein in Hezbollah guerrillas.

Rabbi Yisroel Weingarten of Flint Township learned that a Kassam rocket landed near a school in Tzfat, where his son, Mendel, 14, is spending six weeks in a study program and touring Israel.

"Thank God, he is all right," said Weingarten, rabbi at Chabad House Lubavitch of Eastern Michigan, 5385 Calkins Road.

The school's chief rabbi was injured, apparently not seriously, when the rocket landed just outside his house.

Mendel is the fourth oldest of 11 Weingarten children and the third to visit Israel. Another son, Levi, 16, attended the school last year.

Weingarten said there is no plan to have Mendel return home early.

"Absolutely not, not from our perspective," he said. "We would not want him to leave behind all our brothers and sisters (Israelis)."

At least one area family is currently in Lebanon. Dr. Zouheir Fares, a

Grand Blanc physician, recently joined his family there. An employee at his office Thursday said the family was safe.

Gary Alter, executive director of the Flint Jewish Federation, also deplored the violence but defended Israel's actions.

"What would we do if someone was sending rockets daily into our back yards?" he said. "Would we live with that?"

Alter was referring to missiles being fired at Israel from Gaza, which Israel recently turned over to the Palestinians. He said the latest violence could jeopardize Israel's announced intention to give up the West Bank region for a Palestinian state. He said such a move would put Jerusalem, Israel's major city, in the crosshairs for a rocket attack.

"I don't think anybody is happy or pleased with what's going on," he added. "It obviously is not what Israel wanted."

But the strikes against Lebanon brought objection from within the local Arab community.

Businessman Ghassan Saab, who is from Lebanon, called the latest clashes an escalation of wrong.

"It's shameful that Israel would unleash its fury on Lebanon to get at Hezbollah," said Saab, co-owner of Sorenson Gross Construction Co. in Flint Township. "Their reaction is disproportionate to the situation."

Alexander Isaac, executive director of the American Arab Heritage Council of Genesee County, agreed.

"History tells us nothing can be accomplished by a gun," he said. "Both sides involved should get back to the peace process and keep open that small window of opportunity."

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