Newsletter : 3fax0703.txt
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Bush: Militants Still Want to Wreck Mideast Peace Process
By Paula Wolfson (VOA-White House)
President George W. Bush said Tuesday that he was pleased with the latest developments
in the Middle East but warned there are still militant groups that want to wreck the peace
Although Bush's reaction to recent events in the Middle East is generally upbeat, he
added that it was optimism mixed with a strong dose of realism.
"I am optimistic, but I also recognize the nature of the Middle East," said Bush. "I
mean there are people there who still hate. They hate Israel. They hate the idea of peace.
They can't stand the thought of a peaceful state existing side by side with Israel. And
they are willing to - may be willing to - attack. And what we must continue to do is to
reject that kind of thought."
During a brief session with reporters, Bush made specific mention of the Palestinian
militant group Hamas. "Hamas is not a peaceful organization when they are willing to blow
people up and destroy innocent life."
Hamas recently agreed to a three-month suspension of hostilities with Israel. The Bush
administration has welcomed the ceasefire as an important step. But the president made
clear once again that he believes there will not be peace in the region until Hamas and
similar groups are dismantled. "Progress will be ultimately made when the world,
particularly that part of the world, firmly and finally rejects terrorist activities."
Palestinians Take Over Security in Bethlehem
By VOA News
Israeli forces have left the West Bank city of Bethlehem and turned over security
control to the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian police re-entered Bethlehem's streets Wednesday, shortly after the last
Israeli troops on patrol moved to the city's outskirts.
Under a deal finalized Tuesday, Israeli troops will keep a checkpoint on the main road
leading into Bethlehem, and control the area around a religious site, Rachel's Tomb. But
Israeli forces will no longer be allowed to enter the city and arrest militants as they
have often done in the past. The handover is seen as another boost for the internationally
backed "road map" plan for Middle East peace. On Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian officials
carried out a similar transfer of security control in the northern Gaza Strip.
Israel Radio quoted a senior Israel Defense Forces officer as saying the 33-month
Palestinian uprising may be over. The unidentified officer says Israel can consider itself
the winner of the conflict, and that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas appears to
understand that terrorism is a mistake.
The United States said it would resume direct economic aid to the Palestinian
Authority. Jeffrey Feltman, the acting U.S. consul-general in Arab East Jerusalem, said
Washington would give $30 million to rebuild infrastructure damaged by Israeli military
Feltman said the aid goes "hand in hand" with what he called the Palestinian
Authority's "aggressive pursuit of an ambitious reform agenda." For years, the United
States has avoided giving money to the Palestinian Authority and long-time Palestinian
leader Yasir Arafat. Instead, Washington channeled its assistance to the Palestinians
through private groups and the United Nations.
Abbas: Truce Will Fail if Israel Does Not Free Prisoners
By Ha'aretz and Reuters
Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas warned Wednesday that the three-month truce
announced by militants Sunday would collapse if Israel failed to free a significant number
of Palestinian prisoners. "If we wait for three months without any release of the
prisoners, the ceasefire will break down. If they assassinate anybody... it will
collapse," Abbas told Reuters in an interview from his Ramallah office.
The prime minister also made a tough pledge to jail militants who violate the truce,
saying, "We will crack down on them."
I think the Palestinian people will accept this because the Palestinian people accepted
the truce and they are keen to keep it... So from now on anybody, any faction, any party
which violates it - we will put them in prison."
Abbas said he was rebuilding the decimated Palestinian security forces and expected
them to be strong enough to combat truce violators in about a month.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a cabinet meeting earlier in the day that Israel had
not yet compiled a list of Palestinian prisoners to be released. Palestinian sources said
Wednesday, however, that Israel was set to release 20
Palestinian prisoners from Ofer Prison, north of Jerusalem. The sources told Israel Radio
that 10 of the 20 were administrative prisoners, while the prison terms of the other ten
were almost over, Israel Radio reported.
Israel to Fight for U.S. Visa Exemption
Israel has launched a diplomatic offensive to persuade the United States to exempt
Israelis from requiring a visa to enter the country. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom raised
the issue with Secretary of State Colin Powell two weeks ago and has ordered the
ministry's North America desk to prepare a plan of action. Powell advised Shalom to
exploit Israel's good
relations with Congress in the case.
Shalom's initiative follows new regulations that became effective on Tuesday, making it
much harder to obtain a visa. Under the new rules, prompted by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror
attacks and subsequent fierce domestic criticism of America's visa procedures, all
Israelis between the ages of 16 and 60 must have a personal interview with an American
official before getting a visa.
This is expected to create huge delays - travel agents predict up to several months -
since the embassy has received no extra funding and hired no additional staff to carry out
this task. Applications can no longer be made directly to
the embassy or consulate but must be handled by a registered travel agent. The agent not
only provides the forms and submits them to the embassy, but it is the agent rather than
the applicant whom the embassy informs of the
applicant's interview date. When the applicant arrives for the interview, he will have to
leave his passport with the embassy until it reaches a decision on the application, and at
some point in the future, fingerprinting will
also be required.
Contrary to popular myth, the U.S. is not strict about issuing visas to Israelis
because it fears their staying on in the country illegally. According to the most recent
report of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, of about one million people
picked up for visa violations in the year after 9/11, only 350 were Israelis, although
Israelis entered the country legally that year, including tourists, businessmen, students,
legal workers and government officials. About 4,000 Israelis get green cards for permanent
residence every year, half of them after marrying Americans.
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