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Israel police to probe sex abuse claims against rescue chief

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police on Sunday said they were opening an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against the former head of Israel’s renowned ZAKA rescue service.

Police said the elite Lahav 433 unit, responsible for investigating major crimes and corruption, would handle the case involving Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.

Meshi-Zahav has been a well-known figure in Israel for decades. ZAKA became internationally known in the 1990s when it responded to a wave of attacks by Palestinian militants, by helping first responders and cleaning up human remains in line with Jewish law.

As the head of the ultra-Orthodox organization, Meshi-Zahav was widely seen as a bridge between Israel’s religious and secular Jewish communities. Early this month, he was awarded the Israel Prize, the country’s highest honor, for lifetime achievement.

But on Friday, Meshi-Zahav stepped down from ZAKA and relinquished his prestigious prize after the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said it had interviewed six accusers and obtained evidence of sexual assault and exploitation going back decades. The cases allegedly included teenagers and younger children.

Meshi-Zahav has denied the allegations, but on Sunday more accusers came forward with tales of alleged abuse by him.

One man, identified only by his first initial “D,” told Channel 13 TV that he was abused by Meshi-Zahav for three years beginning when he was 11. Now in his mid-20s, he said he had been assaulted “dozens, if not hundreds” of times and that it was well known there were other victims.

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