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Man Fails in Bid to Swim from Cyprus to Israel

By Reuters

A Briton who tried to swim almost 200 miles from Cyprus to Israel ended up in hospital with hypothermia, Cypriot police said Sunday. Yachtsmen calling for help off the southeast of the Mediterranean island late Saturday rescued the 39-year-old. "He told police he was trying to swim to Jerusalem from Protaras," a police spokeswoman told Reuters, referring to a popular tourist resort on the southeastern coast. The unidentified man had set off traveling light with a just a passport, but he said he lost that at sea. He did not say why he wanted to go to Jerusalem.

Iran Warns Israel Over Reports of Planned Air Strike

By Israel Faxx News Services, Ha'aretz & Al Hayat

The Iranian government issued a warning to Israel over reports appearing in a German news magazine Monday that Jerusalem was researching how to strike Iranian nuclear sites. "We are used to such foolish rhetoric from Israel and consider it not even worth replying, but still Israel knows not to mess around with us," government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told journalists.

According to the news magazine Der Spiegel, Israeli intelligence services were ordered two months ago to study ways of knocking out more than half a dozen nuclear sites in Iran. A Mossad team in Jerusalem had drafted "scenarios" in which raids would be flown by F-16 fighter-bombers that destroy the sites "simultaneously and completely."

An Iranian opposition group that has provided accurate information about undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran in the past said Monday that Tehran has been hiding another nuclear facility from UN inspectors. "We have information about another secret nuclear facility in Iran," an official from the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition group, told Reuters. The official gave no details about the site, but said the NCRI would provide full details Tuesday.

Major Israeli commentators have confirmed that high-ranking Mossad officials are responsible for the proliferation of reports that have appeared over the past two days in a number of foreign newspapers, about Israel's plan to carry out "a decisive preemptive strike" against Iranian nuclear plants, and about modifications operated by the Israeli Navy on American ballistic missiles, allowing them to launch nuclear heads from submarines.

The commentators have maintained that the leaks are designed to prompt the international community to exert strong pressure on Tehran to have it cease its nuclear program, which Israel considers as "the biggest threat to its existence." They explained that Israel's army staff prefers to leak information on its nuclear capacity to the foreign media rather than announce it officially, in a bid to avoid having to reveal the nuclear arsenal they own.

Israelis, Palestinians Draft Unofficial Peace Proposal; 2% of Israel Proper to be Given to PA

By VOA News

A group of Israeli and Palestinian politicians and activists has drafted an unofficial peace proposal aimed at ending decades of conflict. The plan is called the "Geneva Accord" because it was negotiated in secret with the backing of the Swiss government. It is to be signed in Geneva in the coming weeks.

About 40 Israelis and Palestinians attended a ceremony marking completion of the accord in Jordan on Sunday. The chief negotiators were former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. The Israeli government of Ariel Sharon, who said left-wing Israeli politicians had no authority to negotiate with the Palestinians, immediately condemned the proposal.

The text of the proposal was not officially released, but media reports from Israel said it would create a Palestinian state including all of the Gaza Strip and 98 percent of the West Bank. The plan calls for the division of Jerusalem, with Arab neighborhoods being part of the Palestinian state and most Jewish neighborhoods belonging to Israel.

About 20 Israeli settlements in the West Bank would become part of Israel, but the rest of the settlements in occupied territory would have to be dismantled or come under Palestinian control. The plan also expands the Gaza Strip slightly, to make up for the 2 percent of the West Bank that becomes part of Israel. Under the proposal, Palestinians would give up the so-called "right of return" for refugees from what is now Israel.

U.N.: Israeli Military Operation Leaves Hundreds Homeless

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

The United Nations said hundreds of Palestinians have been left homeless, following Israel's latest military operations in the Gaza Strip. Israel denied the claims, saying that it only demolished several buildings, during a raid to uncover and destroy tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt.

A senior U.N. official who visited the densely populated Palestinian Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip said he was shocked by what he said was a picture of devastation. The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Peter Hansen, went to assess the damage following Israel's raid into the camp, code-named "Operation Root Canal."

He said that up to 120 houses were "completely destroyed" and it appeared as though the area had been hit by a severe earthquake, and that as many as 1,500 Palestinians were made homeless.

Hansen said his organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians (UNRWA), would start erecting temporary shelters to help ease the humanitarian plight of the residents.

Israel has rejected his claims, saying the army estimates that there has been damage only to "several buildings," with soldiers targeting only structures used by Palestinian militants. A spokesman for the Israeli army said some buildings had been razed because they had been sitting on top of or near tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt. He said the army had also found abandoned buildings used as cover by Palestinian gunmen to fire on soldiers.

The operation began after Israel received intelligence warnings that Palestinians were attempting to use tunnels to smuggle highly sophisticated weaponry from Egypt. Israel suspects that Palestinian militants want to acquire missiles capable of destroying tanks and bringing down military and civilian aircraft. The Israeli army said it found three tunnels so far but no weapons.

The operation, which began on Friday, has been scaled down but the army says small groups of soldiers will continue searches for a few more days.

Tens of Thousands at Western Wall


An estimated 40,000 people arrived at the Western Wall (Kotel) Monday morning for the semi-annual Birkat Cohanim (Priestly Blessing) prayer. Hundreds of Jews who trace their ancestry directly back to Aaron the High Priest, Moses' brother, blessed the assembled congregation - which reached almost as far back as the steps leading down to the Western Wall plaza.

The Priestly Blessing is offered every day during morning prayers in synagogues throughout Israel by whichever Cohanim happen to be there. On Pesach and Sukkot, however, it has become traditional for hundreds of Cohanim to gather at the Kotel for the occasion. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the Western Wall Rabbi, said that Monday's was one of the largest Birkat Cohanim ceremonies in modern history.

Hundreds of Jews ascended and visited the Temple Mount, with police approval. A large contingent of the Temple Mount Faithful, however, was not permitted to visit the holy site; singing, dancing, and sounding shofarot, they were forced to turn back as they approached the Western Wall's Moghrabim Gate to the Temple Mount.

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