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30,000 ´birthright´ Participants Coming Back

By IsraelNationalNews.com

Thirty thousand past-participants of 'birthright Israel' have pledged to visit Israel during 2004. The program's graduates made their pledge as part of a campaign launched by Israel's Tourism Ministry in conjunction with 'birthright Israel.' The Tourism Ministry launched the initiative at the beginning of the Jewish calendar year, during the High Holidays. Pledge forms were distributed in synagogues across North America under the slogan: 'I Care and I'm Going.' Since its inception four years ago, 'birthright Israel' has brought 48,000 Jewish students from 35 countries to visit the Jewish homeland.


Turkey Probes Possible al-Qaida Role in Synagogue Bombing

By Amberin Zaman (VOA-Istanbul) & IsraelNationalNews.com

Turkish investigators began probing claims that the al-Qaida terrorist network was responsible for twin blasts that rocked two Istanbul synagogues Saturday, killing at least 24 people and wounding more than 300 others.

In what Turkish police consider an important lead, a security camera at one of the synagogues filmed a suicide bomber as he drove a pick up truck packed with explosives. Police said they are trying to identify the truck driver. Police added that they have further evidence pointing to likely involvement of an international group in the deadly suicide attacks against two Istanbul synagogues.

Among the pieces of evidence are the remains of a Pakistani passport retrieved near the shattered Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul's historic Galata neighborhood. Police say the passport bore no stamps of entry into Turkey, suggesting that its owner had entered the country illegally. Turkish Interior Minister Abdul Kadir Aksu told Turkey's Vatan daily that there was no Turkish organization that could have carried out Saturday's attacks on its own. He said foreign groups had planned the attack.

Earlier, London-based al Quds-Al Arabi newspaper said it had received a statement Sunday from a group linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network claiming responsibility for the Istanbul blasts. The group, called the Brigades of the Martyr Abu Hafz al-Masri, had also claimed responsibility for the August attack on U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 23 people. The group said it had targeted the Istanbul synagogues because Israeli intelligence agents in its words frequented them.

Members of the Israeli security service are working alongside Turkish police in helping to gather and analyze evidence at both synagogues. The majority of victims in Saturday's simultaneous blasts were Muslim Turks who were passing by the synagogues.

Leaders of the Chabad movement in Israel met following the bombing attacks. The rabbinical court of the international Hassidic movement called for increased activities around the globe as a response to the documented increase in anti-Semitic attacks, stating that the emissaries operating in Turkey will become more active and work towards increasing their public profile.

The Chabad/Lubavitch rabbis stated they would not be deterred from spreading the Torah message around the world, adding terror attacks will not keep them away from any location. In other Chabad news, the movement has decided to add extra safeguards to its many missions and Chabad Houses all around the world. The worldwide Jewish movement is in contact with the Israeli defense establishment on the matter.


Mediator Hopeful for Palestinian-Israeli Ceasefire

By VOA News

An Egyptian negotiator and Palestinian leaders have pledged to seek a ceasefire from militant groups in an effort to advance the "road map" to peace with Israel. Egypt's intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, agreed to the plan during talks with Yasir Arafat and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in the West Bank town of Ramallah Monday. Suleiman told reporters he hoped there would be a ceasefire and a dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Officials close to the talks said Suleiman has invited Palestinian militant leaders for meetings about a ceasefire next week in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. The Egyptian negotiator also held separate talks with the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency in Jerusalem Monday.

Later this week, Qureia is due to meet with Palestinian militant leaders in the Gaza Strip to discuss ways to end violence against Israeli targets. The ceasefire Qureia seeks would be the first step toward reviving a U.S.-backed peace plan that envisions full Palestinian independence by 2005.

A Palestinian ceasefire declared in June broke down in August, when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 23 people in Jerusalem. Two days later, Israel killed a senior Hamas official in a missile strike.

In Rome, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he plans to meet with Qureia in coming days, for the first round of talks since Qureia took office last month. Meanwhile, Israel continued its military operations Monday against suspected Palestinian militants, with troops killing a Palestinian man in the West Bank refugee camp of Tulkarem. Earlier, soldiers killed another man in the Gaza Strip and captured one person suspected of running a weapons smuggling operation.


Mossad Chief: Nuclear Iran is Worst-Ever Threat to Israel

By Ha'aretz

Mossad intelligence service chief Meir Dagan said Monday that the specter of nuclear weaponry in Iran was the greatest threat that Israel has faced since its founding in 1948, Israel Radio reported.

Appearing before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for the first time since assuming his post, Dagan said that Iran was close to the "point of no return" in developing nuclear arms. An International Atomic Energy Agency report charged that Iran covered up past nuclear programs, including enriching uranium and processing small amounts of plutonium, essential elements of nuclear weapons.

Despite recent Iranian promises to cooperate with the IAEA, the Mossad believes Iran is determined to produce nuclear weapons to emulate North Korea and boost its status in the international community, Knesset spokesman Giora Pordes quoted Dagan as saying.

Dagan also cited as threats to Israel Tehran's support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and Hizbullah, as well as the missiles that militants have deployed in southern Lebanon. He said that one and quarter million residents of northern Israel were in range of the missiles.

Mossad heads refrained from appearing before the committee in the past, fearing that sensitive information could be leaked to the news media, preferring to report to select subcommittees instead. However, committee chairman MK Yuval Steinitz persuaded Dagan to brief the whole committee, Pordes said Monday.


Israeli Pupils Send Books to San Diego Jewish School

By IsraelNationalNews.com

Students from the elementary school of the Sha'ar HaNegev region have collected Hebrew books from among their personal libraries, and are sending them to the Chabad Hebrew Academy in San Diego. Twenty classroom trailers of the school burned down in the huge wildfires that blazed through southern California recently.

Some of the books have already been sent, and the second installment of the donation will be made Tuesday. Sha'ar HaNegev students will meet Tuesday with representatives of the San Diego Jewish community; the latter are visiting Israel in the framework of the General Assembly of Jewish American organizations.

Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council head Alon Shuster told Arutz-7's Moshe Priel, "At a time when Jewish centers around the world are attacked and threatened, and when former Jewish Agency head Avraham Burg eulogizes Zionism - the 'working settlement' enterprise in Israel continues to strengthen its wide-ranging ties with Jewish communities around the world.

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