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Volunteers For Israel

By IsraelNationalNews.com

More than 40 members of "Volunteers For Israel" will arrive in Israel from all over the U.S. Monday to begin their annual 3-week stint on an army base. They will live and work with Israelis, performing non-combat, civilian duties such as repairing and maintaining equipment, kitchen duties, and packaging military and medical supplies. Their hands-on work relieves reservists and saves Israel millions of shekels each year in work hours and salaries. All programs are administered in Israel by Sar-El (www.vfi-usa.org)


U.S. Tells Israelis, Palestinians To Accept 'Road Map'

By VOA News, Reuters & IsraelNationalNews.com

Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged Israelis and Palestinians to take steps toward implementing the so-called "road map" peace plan. But Powell said no one should underestimate the challenges ahead. He spoke after meeting separately Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his new Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas.

Powell said Palestinians must dismantle the terrorist infrastructure or peace will fail. He said Israel must also take steps to ease Palestinians' lives and make it possible for Palestinians to work. Powell added that the United States would provide an additional $50 million to build roads and create jobs in the Occupied Territories. Abbas said his talks with Powell were "deep, serious and positive".

Powell urged the Palestinian leadership to crack down on militant groups that carry out violent attacks against Israelis. He made the appeal at a joint news conference in Jerusalem with Sharon. "We must also see rapid, decisive action by the Palestinians to disarm and to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. Without such actions, our best efforts will fail."

Sharon said Palestinian violence was the main obstacle holding back peace efforts. "What is needed now are actions that should be taken against the [Palestinian] terrorist organizations."

Israel has asked for 15 changes to the road map but the Palestinians said they accept the plan as written. Abbas urged Israel to accept it. Earlier, Sharon said Israel is prepared to make concessions for peace. Palestinian officials said Abbas and Sharon plan to meet later this month.

Powell then traveled to Jericho in the West Bank for talks with Abbas. In a joint news conference after their talks, Powell said that, while the Palestinians must fight terrorism, the Israelis also have to take steps to improve the lot of the Palestinians. "We have to take steps on the Israeli side that give hope to the Palestinian people and ease their lives, and make it possible for them to get to their workplaces, and for them to begin to live normal lives and for their children to do so."

Abbas said the Palestinian Authority is willing to fight terror, but also had demands on Israel. He said Israel must put an end to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, halt assassinations of Palestinian leaders and free Palestinian political prisoners. He also demanded that Israel allow freedom of movement for Palestinian chief Yasir Arafat to leave and return to the West Bank.

On Monday, Powell will meet with representatives from Russia, the European Union and United Nations, who along with the United States wrote the road map.

The road map plan calls for Palestinians to stop violence, and for Israel to stop building settlements in the Palestinian territories. If followed, the plan would lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state by 2005. Late Saturday, Israel's army announced it was easing some travel restrictions on Palestinians to allow workers to enter Israel, starting Sunday.

Israel will readmit about 25,000 Palestinian workers after an extended ban and free about 180 prisoners in goodwill gestures. Israeli diplomatic sources initially said around 120,000 Palestinians with pre-existing work permits would have the right to re-enter Israel from Monday. But Israeli security sources told Reuters later that the initial number would be around 25,000.

Israeli officials said the Defense Ministry made the decisions after discussions with Powell on ways to begin implementing confidence-building measures prescribed by the "road map" plan. They said 63 prisoners had been freed on Sunday and about 120 more would be released on Monday. Thousands of Palestinians are in Israeli jails for alleged bomb and gun attacks on Israelis during a 31-month-old uprising for independence.

Israel had banned tens of thousands of Palestinians from crossing into Israel to work in security clampdowns since shortly after the September 2000 start of the uprising in the West Bank and Gaza.

Officials said Israel had also decided to restore a flow of goods between Palestinian territories and neighboring states, specifically crossing points from the Gaza Strip to Egypt and the West bank into Jordan.

The official called the move to restore working rights for Palestinians in Israel "unprecedented" during the conflict. No details were available on the practicalities of the step. There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials.

Israeli leaders had held out the prospect of humanitarian gestures such as restoring working rights and freeing detainees, but Palestinians said it was not enough because Israeli army roadblocks remained around Palestinian cities.


Yediot: Housing Ministry to Construct Prestige Neighborhoods in Negev

By Globes

The Yediot Achronot Hebrew daily reported that the Ministry of Housing and Construction is planning 5,000 private housing units in build-your-own-house plan luxury neighborhoods in the Negev.

The apartments are designed for the families of Israel Aircraft Industry (IAI) and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) training base employees, who will be relocated to the south in the coming years. Minister of Housing and Construction Effie Eitam said this would also attract wealthy people from the central region.

The project will cost an estimated NIS 1 billion. Construction of the neighborhoods will be modeled on the Omer, Lahavim, and Meitar communities, which house the wealthiest people in the Beersheva valley. Social and economic data place them among the six leading Negev communities in their standard of living.

One disadvantage is that the land in the Negev is not immediately available. Build-your-own-house plots are in short supply, and planning and approval processes there encounter a great deal of red tape.

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