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>JN Aug. 6, 2003, Vol. 11, No. 134

Israeli Authorities Detain Security Fence Protesters

By VOA News

Israeli authorities have detained 47 people who were protesting the construction of a 360-mile-long Israeli security barrier that Palestinians say encroaches on their land, and which they call a wall of racial separation.

Israeli military officials said the protesters - who were mostly foreign activists - were arrested Tuesday near the West Bank town of Qalqilya after refusing to leave a closed military zone. Those detained include 41 members of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement.


Official: Reports on Possible U.S. Reduction of Israeli Aid 'Premature'

By David Gollust (VOA-State Department)

The State Department said Tuesday that administration officials are discussing the possibility of reducing U.S. loan assistance to Israel because of the security barrier it is building in the West Bank. However officials said suggestions that such a decision might be near are premature.

The fact that officials here are acknowledging the possibility of linking U.S. aid to the fence project underlines the degree of U.S. concern about the controversial Israeli barrier, which Palestinians and other Arab critics contend could pre-judge the border of a future Palestinian state.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Bush administration was looking for ways to press Israel to halt construction of the fence, and that one option was reducing the $9 billion loan package approved by Congress for Israel earlier this year to help it cope with the economic effects of the Iraq war.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker reiterated U.S. concern about the fence project and said administration officials are pleased that Israeli officials have said they are taking U.S. concerns into account.

As to the loan package, he noted that the relevant legislation already provides for deductions for Israeli settlement activity and acknowledged that linking U.S. loans to the fence project was under discussion. "Consistent with the legislation that authorizes loan guarantees, Israeli expenditures on settlements will be deducted from loan guarantees. But in terms of the specific link to the fence, that's something that we're discussing. And some of the reports that I've seen about decisions being made are clearly premature," Reeker said. In an interview Monday with the U.S.-funded Arabic broadcaster Radio Sawa, Secretary of State Colin Powell said a nation is within its rights to build a border fence.

But he said when a fence "crosses over onto the land of others," and is built in a way that makes it more difficult to move forward on the "road map" to Middle East peace, this as he put it, "causes us a problem."

Israel contends the barrier is for security only and not meant to delineate a border for a future Palestinian state, which is to be negotiated under the final stage of the "road map." Any attempt to pressure Israel through aid reductions is likely to be controversial in Congress and officials stressed that no early decision on such a move is anticipated.


Israel: al Qaeda Active in Palestinian Areas

By Anna Driver (MSNBC)

Israel accused Al Qaeda on Tuesday of recruiting Palestinians and setting up networks in Palestinian areas to carry out attacks on Israel and said it had succeeded in disrupting some of the activity.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council, Israel said al Qaeda operatives carrying foreign passports had tried several times since 2001 to enter Israel to gather intelligence and to carry out attacks. But those attempts were thwarted and border security has since been tightened, the Israeli government said in the report, submitted to a council committee set up in 1999 to monitor U.N. sanctions on Afghanistan's then-Taliban government and its al Qaeda allies.

Israel said it caught some Palestinians who were recruited by al Qaeda abroad and who have since been tried and sentenced. The report offered almost no detail to support the charges, providing only a general description of what Israel called Al Qaeda activity.

Al Qaeda is blamed by Washington for the Sept. 11, 2001, triple hijacking attack that killed some 3,000 people, as well as hits on U.S. embassies and other targets around the world. Washington said last week that the al Qaeda network was planning new suicide hijackings and bombings, and a huge car bomb tore through one of the top hotels in Indonesia's capital on Tuesday, killing 14 people and wounding 150.

Palestinian leaders have long denied any connection with al Qaeda. However, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in December that his country was ''undoubtedly a target'' for al Qaeda.

Israel's report to the Security Council also accused al Qaeda of intensifying its propaganda activities in Palestinian areas. "Examples include leaflets signed by 'the Bin Laden Brigades in Palestine,' inciting to 'jihad' against Jews and promising to continue 'in the footsteps of Osama bin Laden,'" the report said. The term "jihad" can be used to signify a holy war.


Israeli Intelligence: Iran Could Have Nuclear Weapons by 2005

By Ha'aretz Service and Reuters

Iran will soon complete its program for achieving a basic ability to create nuclear weapons that will be operational by 2005; Israel Radio quoted a senior military intelligence officer as telling the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Iran appears to be in the late stages of building a nuclear bomb and has sought help from scientists in Russia, China, North Korea and Pakistan.

Shimon Briarsky, a former intelligence official in charge of Iranian affairs, urged the United States to exert "massive" diplomatic pressure on Iran to stop it from developing a nuclear bomb. The U.S. has "a window of a year and a half, two years," Briarsky told Army Radio on Monday. "Not for military action, for diplomatic action that would start with diplomatic pressure and continue with involving the [United Nations] Security Council - massive pressure on the Iranians to destroy and neutralize what they have attained."

Citing its own three-month investigation into Iran's clandestine nuclear capacity, the Times said it had strong evidence Iran's commercial program masked a plan to become the world's next nuclear power and it was "much closer to producing a bomb than Iraq ever was."

Iran has consistently denied it has plans to build nuclear weapons and has said its program is for peaceful civilian use. The Times, in the story from Vienna, said it was unclear when Iran might produce its first atomic weapons. Some experts thought two to three years was likely while others believed the Iranian government had probably not given a final go-ahead.

In Vienna, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency declined to comment on the story. "We do not comment on media reports," spokesman Lothar Wedekind told Reuters. The story cited a confidential report by the French government in May it said concluded Iran was "surprisingly close" to having enriched uranium or plutonium for a bomb.

Foreign intelligence officials told the Times the CIA had briefed them on a contingency plan for U.S. air and missile attacks against Iranian nuclear installations. "It would be foolish not to present the commander in chief with all of the options, including that one," one of the officials was quoted as saying. The CIA declined comment on such a plan to the paper.

The newspaper said North Korean military scientists were recently monitored entering Iranian nuclear facilities and were assisting in the design of a nuclear warhead. A Middle Eastern intelligence official was also quoted as saying Pakistan's role in helping Iran develop a nuclear program was "bigger from the beginning than we thought."

Russian scientists, sometimes traveling to Iran under false identities and working without their government's approval, were also helping to complete a special reactor that could produce weapons-grade plutonium, the paper said. Tehran has also imported 1.8 tons of nuclear material from China in 1991 and processed some of it to manufacture uranium metal, the report said.

Another indicator Iran was in the late stages of weapons development was the fact that Tehran recently approached European companies to buy devices that could manipulate large volumes of radioactive material, technology to forge uranium metal and plutonium and switches that could trigger a nuclear weapon.



















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