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Sharon Welcomes 300 New Jewish Immigrants


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon welcomed more than 300 Jewish immigrants in a ceremony at Ben-Gurion airport Wednesday. Sharon told the immigrants, who came from the United States and Canada, that Israel needs them more now then ever. "We need you, and we need many more like you."

Immigration officials said about 30 percent of the new arrivals will live in the occupied West Bank, while the rest will likely settle in Israeli cities in central Israel. The Jewish immigrants were financially assisted in their move to Israel by "Jewish Souls United," an organization that aims to bring 100,000 American and Canadian Jews to Israel within the next five years.

Diplomats Move to Avert Crisis in 'Road Map' Peace Plan

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Diplomatic efforts reportedly are under way to avert a potential crisis in the road map to Middle East peace. The move comes after a threat by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to resign over criticism from within the Palestinian Authority regarding his handling of negotiations with Israel.

Israeli media report that special U.S. envoy John Wolf has urged Israel to release more than just several hundred Palestinian prisoners, and to speed up dismantling illegal settlement outposts in Palestinian areas. The road map does not specifically demand that Israel release Palestinian prisoners. But Palestinians see prisoner releases as vital, to build confidence and to enable progress on other elements of the peace plan.

Last Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet approved a plan to release several hundred Palestinian prisoners, but that fell far short of Palestinian demands. The move further weakened the position of Abbas, who recently negotiated a promise by the main Palestinian militant factions to freeze attacks against Israel for three months.

The militants want all prisoners released. Israel's refusal was cited by one faction of the militant group Islamic Jihad as the reason for a suicide attack Monday, in which one Israeli woman was killed. Other militants have warned the ceasefire could collapse over the prisoner issue.

The ceasefire is not part of the road map, but is seen by Abbas as a way to calm tensions and avoid a Palestinian civil war. Israel and the United States say a ceasefire is not enough, and they insist Abbas will have to move against the militants more aggressively in the near future, and dismantle their organizations, as outlined in the road map.

According to the peace plan, Israel was to immediately dismantle illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While the government began a very public move against some of these outposts, it seems many new ones were established after the old ones were evacuated.

Although Abbas has the strong backing of the United States, he does not enjoy widespread popular support among Palestinians. He has come under growing criticism from within the main Palestinian faction, Fatah, to which both he and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat belong.

At an apparently stormy meeting Monday, Abbas was sharply criticized for his handling of negotiations with the Israelis, for having allegedly caved in to Israeli and American pressure, and having gotten very little in return. Abbas has threatened to resign, unless he can get his party's backing.

Because of the internal crisis, Abbas canceled a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, scheduled for Wednesday. Palestinian officials say a meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Security Chief Mohammed Dahlan could take place Thursday. Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr has said he hopes that meeting will produce something significant.

Declassified Documents Show Israel's 1967 Attack on USS Liberty was Accidental


The United States' National Security Agency released new documents this week confirming Israel's claim that its attack on the USS Liberty during the 1967 Six-Day War was a tragic error, Ha'aretz reported.

Israel's shelling of the American spy ship off the coast of Gaza, which killed 34 American servicemen and wounded 171, has been the source of much controversy. Israel has consistently insisted it had no idea the ship was American, but conspiracy theorists and anti-Israel propagandists claimed Israel struck the ship in the full knowledge that it was American.

Florida Judge Jay Cristol, who has been investigating the Liberty incident for 14 years and published a book on the subject in 2002, publicized the NSA documents, originally defined as top secret. On Monday, the NSA gave Cristol a transcript of conversations held by two Israeli Air Force helicopter pilots who were hovering over the Liberty after it was hit. The transcripts confirm Israel's claim that the attack on the ship was an accident.

After the Israeli air force and navy bombed the Liberty, the two helicopter pilots were sent to assess the damage and evaluate the possibility of rescuing the surviving crewmembers. An American spy plane, which arrived at the scene immediately after the attack, recorded their conversations, as well as the conversations between the pilots and their supervisor at Hatzor Base, which took place between 2:30 and 3:37 p.m. on June 8, the third day of the war.

The transcripts begin with the pilots and their supervisor referring to the damaged vessel as an "Egyptian warship." The pilots were told: "Pay attention. The ship is now identified as Egyptian." This identification supports Israel's claim that it had believed the ship was Egyptian when it ordered the attack. Over half an hour had passed until the pilots first informed that the ship might not have been Egyptian at all. They were ordered to identify the nationality of surviving crewmembers.

"Clarify by the first man that you bring up, what nationality he is, and report to me immediately," the supervisor instructed, according to the transcript. "It's important to know." Soon after, one of the pilots informed Hatzor that he saw an American flag flying over the wounded ship. He was asked to investigate and determine whether it was really an American ship.

Although Israel gave its own recordings of the pilots' conversations to the British television station Thames in 1987, conspiracy theorists charged that the tapes had been doctored to hide the fact that Israel had bombed the Liberty intentionally. The NSA transcripts refute any such claims since they were never in Israeli hands.

Israel has maintained that it attacked the Liberty because it believed it was an Egyptian supply ship ferrying supplies to the Egyptian troops fighting against Israel. When it discovered the error, it immediately informed the Americans, apologized and paid compensation to the victims' families.

"It's the last piece of intelligence that remained classified, and every rational person that will read it will understand that there is no truth in these conspiracy theories against Israel," Judge Cristol said Tuesday. But he added: "Those who hate Israel, who hate Jews, and those who believe in conspiracy will not be convinced by anything."

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