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London: Bush Told Sharon War will Begin Feb. 21


Sources in the Prime Minister's Office deny reports from Great Britain claiming that the American attack on Iraq will begin on Feb. 21 - and that President George Bush informed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of this last week. Sharon's staffers say that the report is a lie, and that Bush and Sharon have not spoken recently, and certainly not at the time noted by the London papers. Defense Minister Mofaz, who returned from high-level meetings in the U.S. last week, told the Cabinet Sunday that Israel does not know of any particular date for the attack. He also said that the threat against Israel must be taken in its proper proportions, and that unnecessary panic should not be caused.

Turkish Troops to Advance on N. Iraqi Oil Cities - Ahead of U.S. Attack

By DEBKAfile

The conference held in Turkey on Dec. 24, between Israel's chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon and Turkish army chief Gen. Hilimi Ozkok, wrapped up the arrangements made by the U.S., Israel and Turkey for concerted action in the approaching war with Iraq.

The operations of their air and missile defenses, as well as their air and naval forces, will be closely synchronized under arrangements that have also made provision against Syria and the Hizbullah joining the conflict. Together with Turkish political and military leaders and U.S. representatives, Kurdish representatives will try and hammer out an historic Turkish-Kurdish accord based on a text drafted in Washington.

Its key elements are: The Kurdish autonomous government of northern Iraq will grant 70,000 Turkish troops of the 2nd and 3rd Corps free passage through its territory for the Turkish push towards the big northern Iraqi oil cities of Kirkuk and Mosul.

While transiting this enclave, Turkish troops will show every respect for Kurdish autonomy, thereby also conferring tacit recognition on the part of Ankara. The Turkish contingents will seize control the two oil cities with the support of Iraqi ethnic Turkoman units, who will be said to have risen up against Saddam Hussein's domination of their region. For the moment, the Kurds will not press claims to Iraqi oilfields.

Turkey will then proceed to create an autonomous Turkoman entity stretching from northern to central Iraq up to the approaches to Baghdad. According to DEBKAfile's military sources, the successful outcome of the three-way parley on this document will open the way for a possible Turkish invasion of northern Iraq and its advance on the oil cities without waiting for the general American offensive to begin on other fronts.

Our military sources draw attention to a secret military pact between Syria and Iraq, first revealed by DEBKAfile in 2001, which permits Iraqi military units in the event of war crossing into Syria and using it as a base for striking at Israel. The information Sharon revealed indicates that Baghdad has invoked that treaty by sending units across into Syria to hide some of its unconventional weapons.

There is a certain amount of controversy in Israel over the relative perils presented by various enemies. Labor leaders this week accused Sharon of fomenting an Iraqi war scare as an electioneering stratagem, while the prime minister's Likud retorted that Labor was trifling with national security for its own campaign. Some Israeli military experts argue that the Syrian-backed Hizbullah missile deployment on the Lebanese border poses a more tangible threat than Iraq. Appearing before the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee on Dec. 24, Israel's military intelligence chief, Maj.-Gen. Aharon Zeevi offered as his judgment that al Qaeda presents a greater danger than Baghdad.

His point is valid. Even an Iraqi missile attack would be less damaging to a country the size of Israel than a radiological, chemical, biological or mass-murder attack by terrorists in a crowded town center, of the kind of which al Qaeda is capable. Terrorism on this scale would have a lasting and profoundly traumatic effect on a small country. Most Israeli military leaders agree with Zeevi that Palestinian and al Qaeda terrorism is potentially more destructive than an Iraqi missile strike. What is not generally admitted by the experts however is the possibility of al Qaeda and the Palestinians acting as Iraq's surrogates. This possibility could become palpable much sooner than generally expected should the Turkish army lead the American campaign against Iraq by marching into the north.

Controversial 'Christ' Photo Exhibit Opens in Paris

By Lisa Bryant (VOA-Paris)

It is hard to escape images of Jesus this holiday season, particularly in traditionally Christian countries, where every corner church boasts an elaborate Nativity scene. But, nowhere are the images of Christ more provocative than at a new photography show-taking place in the French capital.

Jesus is the main attraction at the Hotel de Sully, a graceful museum in the Marais, the ancient Jewish quarter of Paris. Photographs depict likenesses of Jesus wrapped around a Nazi swastika, or sprawled on a dusty road near the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Christ appears as an old Japanese man, and as Cuban revolutionary fighter Che Guevara. He is portrayed as one of many of those who regularly trudge up Jerusalem's famous Via Dela Rosa carrying crosses.

Billed as the first photography show totally devoted to Jesus and Christian images, the exhibition was conceived by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It may seem odd that the Jewish state's flagship museum is interested in Jesus. But in an interview from Jerusalem, the show's organizer, Nissan Perez, noted Jerusalem is the center of Christianity, as well as Judaism. Besides, Perez said, the exhibition is not about Christianity.

"Let's make it clear this exhibition has nothing to do with religion itself," he said. "Those are religious images or images related to religious subjects. But it's not a religious exhibition. It's all done in the perspective of history of photography, and art history."

Perez, who is also curator of photography at the Israel Museum, spent months sifting through hundreds of photographs for the show. The 150 selected include works from 1855 to the present. The exhibition aims to reveal profoundly different interpretations of Jesus across generations and cultures. Another theme is the exploitation of Christ-like images in advertising and political propaganda.

Those points are underscored by the show's photographers, who not only include Christians, but Jews and agnostics - although no Muslims. Both the Jewish and Muslim faiths generally shun engraved images, but Perez believes Muslims tend to be stricter than Jews on this matter.

The photographs on display are sometimes abrasive, but none are deeply offensive. Some pictures are haunting, such as that of Jesus carrying his cross past Hitler. Perez sought advice from Roman Catholic clergy to avoid what he called "gratuitous scandals." But he is bracing for tough criticism in May, when the show opens in Jerusalem.

"I believe the Jewish Orthodox will scream and shout and yell at the fact that the Israel Museum is daring to show photographs of Christ," he said. "Because for very Orthodox Jews even the idea of Christ goes against the grain - its a no, no, it's a taboo, it shouldn't be seen or talked about."

Also jarring are images of the ever-present clashes in Perez' own country. A 1999 photograph inspired by Christ's Last Supper features Israeli soldiers eating bread and oranges. A 2001 scene by photojournalist Pavel Wohlberg captures women lamenting over a Palestinian man who has fainted during an Israeli army raid in Gaza. The Paris show runs through Jan. 5.

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