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Palestinian Official Says Abbas May Quit Without More Power

By VOA News

A Palestinian official said Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas might quit unless lawmakers give him clear support and more authority. Information Minister Nabil Amr said Abbas would make that threat when he addresses the Palestinian parliament on Thursday. He said Abbas would announce he plans to step aside unless his cabinet is fully empowered, especially in the areas of administration and security.

Abbas has been locked in a power struggle with Palestinian chieftain Yasir Arafat, who refuses to cede full control of Palestinian security forces. The security apparatus is key to Abbas' push for reforms that include a crackdown on terrorists who attack Israelis. Israel has made the crackdown a condition for moving ahead with the U.S.-backed "road map" plan for peace in the region.

Earlier Wednesday, Arafat declared the "road map" plan dead because of what he called Israeli military aggression. In an interview with CNN television, Arafat said there was no possibility Palestinian militant groups, such as Hamas, would renew a ceasefire deal with Israel. However, other Palestinian officials said later the Palestinian Authority stands by the road map and still wants it implemented.

On the question of Abbas remaining in office, many parliament members say they would prefer Abbas to stay in office and work out his differences with Arafat. Mediators have been meeting in Ramallah to try to overcome the differences between the two men, so far without success.

Another prominent member of the legislative council, Saeb Erekat, said the crisis threatened to harm both leaders and must be resolved. "I think this a very difficult situation and I know that there are many big efforts being exerted at these hours in order to overcome all these difficulties. We have to overcome these difficulties because at the end of the day, the equation weakening President Arafat is really weakening Abu Mazen [Abbas], and weakening Abu Mazen is weakening President Arafat."

Arafat reluctantly agreed, earlier this year, to appoint Abbas as the first Palestinian Prime Minister. The appointment followed intense international pressure on Arafat to share power and pave the way for a new Palestinian leadership.

Since then, Abbas' supporters said he has been unable to pursue a program of reform because of Arafat's refusal to give up control of such areas as security. Abbas has demanded full authority over the various Palestinian security forces in order to stop armed Palestinian groups from launching more attacks against Israel.

Air Force Auschwitz-Birkenau Flyover


On Thursday Israeli Air Force pilots will fly over the extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. At the same time, a ceremony will take place at Auschwitz where the names of victims of the transport that arrived at Auschwitz on Sept. 4, 1943 will be read. At the request of the Israeli Air Force delegation to Poland, Yad Vashem workers searched the Hall of Names for Pages of Testimony for individuals who were murdered on the same day, 60 years prior to the delegation's trip.

Descendants of Holocaust survivors will pilot the three aircraft. Two Polish MiG-29 jets will join them, Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman Sharon Feingold said.

Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, commented on the significance of the event: "The sight of Israeli planes flying over Auschwitz is a tragic reminder that allied planes flew over Auschwitz in 1944 and could have bombed the gas chambers, but instead bombed only the adjacent oil factories. The Roosevelt administration knew about the mass murder of Jews in Auschwitz, but did not order U.S. planes to bomb the gas chambers, largely because saving Jews would have resulted in more pressure to let the refugees come to the United States.

The Air Force delegation is visiting Poland to honor the Polish Air Force in its 85th year. Prior to its return to Israel, the Israeli delegation will perform a flyover of Auschwitz-Birkenau comprised of three F-15 jets. The flyover represents an integral part of the IDF ceremony, which is in the framework of the project "Witnesses in Uniform."

During Yad Vashem's computerized search in its Hall of Names, it was discovered that all of the victims from September 4 arrived at Auschwitz from a transport from Drancy, France that had departed two days earlier (Sept. 2, 1943). 661 of the individuals were sent to their immediate death in the gas chambers within hours of their arrival.

The head of the delegation, Brig.-Gen. Amir Eschel said, "The Germans and those that helped them tried not only to systematically destroy the Jews, but also to erase all traces of the victims and of the murder itself. In commemorating the victims by reading their names, we attempt to redeem the victims from the ruins and give them back their names and faces." Eschel will give a short speech from his plane during the ceremony.

Yad Vashem's Hall of Names currently holds over 2 million Pages of Testimony, all of which have been digitally scanned. Yad Vashem is taking great strides to digitize all names stored in its databases (until today 3.2 million names have been added to the digitized list). In spring 2004, Yad Vashem will upload the entire list of names to the Internet, allowing international access to the database and the ability for every individual to search for names and to fill out Pages of Testimony via the Internet.

The Polish museum at Auschwitz on Wednesday criticized the IAF's plans to fly warplanes over the camp's site to honor the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. "The National Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau deplores the demonstration of Israeli military might in this place," the museum said in a statement. "It's a cemetery, a place of silence and concentration," museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt said by telephone. "Flying the [F-15s] is a demonstration of military might which is an entirely inappropriate way to commemorate the victims."

Israel's ambassador to Poland, Shevach Weiss, insisted that the overflight was not a demonstration of Israeli air power. "They will fly over the camp for about a second to honor the ashes of their fathers and grandfathers. This will be a very emotional moment for them. They will probably be crying in the planes. This is not a demonstration of military power. Our army simply wants to honor the victims," the envoy told Reuters.

Both the IDF and Foreign Ministry defended the fly-over plans, citing cooperation between Israel and Poland to remember the more than one million people who perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the vast majority of them Jews, from 1940 until its liberation on Jan. 27, 1945. A total of six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

Some 200 IDF soldiers also are to take part in a ceremony at Birkenau, the former death camp adjacent to Auschwitz, according to Israeli officials. "It's a joint Israeli-Polish initiative and for a noble cause," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said. "We share a tragic history, and obviously it's being done in full cooperation."

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