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Shalom Calls For A Return Of The US' Sixth Fleet


Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom called upon U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to order the return of the Sixth Fleet to the Port of Haifa. The American ships were ordered out of the port when the PA started the Oslo War almost three years ago.

Shalom explained the move would be an important one for several reasons, including the sending of a signal to the international community that stability has been restored in Israel.

Israel Cabinet Approves Release of 100 Palestinian Prisoners

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem) & Ha'aretz

The Israeli Cabinet has voted to release some 100 Palestinian prisoners who are members of Islamic groups that oppose Israel's existence. The move is seen as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Washington. The 14-9 vote on Sunday approved Sharon's proposal to release up to 100 Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners.

Both organizations are dedicated to Israel's destruction and have carried out frequent suicide bombings and other attacks. But none of the prisoners slated for release has been held on suspicion of murder. The prisoners are in addition to more than 400 other Palestinians who have already been selected and should be set free in the next few days.

A spokesman for the Israeli government, Avi Pazner, said the vote was intended to bolster the position of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. The move follows criticism by Palestinians of Abbas for failing to win more concessions from Israel during negotiations on the international road map to peace in the Middle East.

It is understood that Sharon wanted to convince the U.S. administration that he is serious about improving Palestinian support for Abbas. Sharon is scheduled to hold talks with President George Bush at the White House on Tuesday.

Ahead of the meeting, Sharon announced that Israel was preparing to withdraw its troops from two additional cities in the West Bank. Israel on Sunday also began dismantling some key military checkpoints in the West Bank, allowing traffic to flow freely for the first time in nearly three years. Palestinians celebrated by cheering and sounding their car horns as one roadblock was removed north of Ramallah

Diplomatic sources accompanying Sharon to Washington said that Israel was planning to release 540 Palestinian prisoners in the coming week, which include 210 Hamas and Jihad activists, 210 Fatah activists and 120 Palestinians jailed on criminal offenses.

Some of those to be released have already been put to trial in Israeli courts, and as a result, will need a presidential pardon to be released. However, administrative detainees will be released with a warrant from the IDF.

Minister Ehud Olmert told Army Radio that due to technical reasons the prisoners would not be released until after Sharon returns from the U.S., but that this delay of about seven to 10tdays was comfortable for both Israel and the Palestinians.

Among the Hamas prisoners slated to be released include relatively senior officials in Hamas' civilian leadership in the West Bank, as well as activists who served as liaisons with Hamas' leadership overseas, people involved in arranging the transfer of funds to Hamas institutions in the territories or people who arranged military training for Hamas members.

Israel to Press Ahead with Security Fence Around West Bank

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel is to press ahead with the construction of a security fence around the West Bank despite pressure from the United States for changes to the plan. The decision comes as Israel's prime minister heads to Washington.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said that the planned contours of the security fence to encircle the West Bank would not be altered. He made the pledge during a meeting of cabinet ministers from his ruling Likud Party on Sunday, shortly before departing for Washington. Mr. Sharon reaffirmed this position in a separate meeting with his defense minister, Shaul Mofaz.

The two men agreed that the outline of the fence would remain the same but construction of the barrier would concentrate for the moment on what Israeli officials described as "less problematic" sections. The officials said this meant that the planned building of the fence around some major Jewish settlements would be put off until a later date.

Sharon's policy stance on the issue comes ahead of his scheduled meeting at the White House on Tuesday with President Bush. On Friday, Bush described the West Bank security fence as a "problem" in a joint appearance with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

The End of Iraqi Jewry in Sight?


Friday afternoon, shortly before the onset of the Sabbath, six of the last 34 Jews in Iraq made aliyah - immigration to Israel. Jewish Agency officials spent the last several weeks in Iraq, looking for Jews - and of the 34 they found, six agreed to come back with them to Israel. The flight was arranged by the Agency and HIAS, a Jewish-American humanitarian organization.

A HIAS spokesman said that the plane was to have made a stop in Jordan, but this plan was canceled. Most of the six new olim - five elderly Jews from Baghdad and one from Batzra - have family in Israel. The names of five of the new immigrants are: Sasson Sallah Abdu, 90; Naima Eliyahu Hallali, 99; her daughter Hatun Hayim Dayan, 70; Salima Shemesh, 70 - some of whose relatives said joyfully today that they had no idea that she was even alive until they saw her name on the list; and Meir Zubeyda, 39.

Jews came to Iraq some 2,500 years ago after King Nebuchadnetzar sacked Jerusalem and sent the residents into captivity and exile. Sixty years ago, there were over 100,000 Jews in Iraq - but the final deterioration of their community began in 1941 when a murderous Arab/Nazi mob killed 179 Jews and destroyed much of their property.

In 1948, Iraq's rulers reacted to the founding of Israel with official persecution of Iraqi Jews. In 1952, they were allowed to leave with their assets if they renounced their citizenship. By the end of that year, only about 6,000 Jews remained in Iraq; most of the others made aliyah, but an undetermined number are unaccounted for. There are no children among the 34 Jews, and the last Jewish wedding in Baghdad was in 1978.

Among the youngest of those who stayed are two sisters in their 30s, Nidal and Kalida Saleh. They live around the corner from the last remaining synagogue, and told reporters a few months ago that they had no desire to leave Iraq.

Reuters reported earlier this month on another Iraqi Jew named Tawfik Safer, 80, who said that Saddam Hussein "was good to us," and that he did not want to leave Iraq. Three months ago, Associated Press reported on a 37-year-old female dentist named Khalida Fuad Eliahu, who was "desperate to flee" - although was not anxious to go to Israel, which she considered too dangerous. Sasson Saleh, 90, said that the Iraqi Muslims "don't care for us" and that he reads the Talmud and knows it by heart. He did not discuss going to Israel.

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