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>Israel Faxx
>JN Dec. 8, 2003, Vol. 11, No. 212

Reservists to be Discharged from IDF at Age 40


IDF reservists will be exempt from service beginning with age 40 a ministerial committee decided Sunday.

The committee headed by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim as well as Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, made the decision to curtail reserve duty service. The decision of the committee requires Knesset approval before becoming law.

Palestinian Factions Fail to Reach Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement

By Greg LaMotte (VOA-Cairo)

A dozen Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo failed to reach agreement on a comprehensive ceasefire offer to Israel. Some Palestinian factions had indicated earlier in the day that agreement had been reached on a conditional ceasefire, which Israel said would be unacceptable.

Palestinian delegates said the three days of talks in Cairo were a failure, and had reached a dead end. They said the factions gave the Palestinian Authority no authorization to pursue peace initiatives with the Israelis. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia had hoped the Palestinian factions would agree to halt attacks against Israel, so he could take such an agreement to the bargaining table with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Earlier Sunday, Palestinian factions said an agreement had been reached to end hostilities against Israeli civilians, but not Israeli military personnel or settlers in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

Israeli officials insisted only an end to all hostilities could pave the way for a mutual ceasefire agreement. But Israeli officials also emphasized that they are willing to scale back military operations in the territories, provided the relative quiet of recent weeks is maintained.

Egyptian officials in Cairo told the Palestinian factions that halting attacks against Israeli civilians was not sufficient, and called for a comprehensive ceasefire. According to Palestinian sources, that is when the talks ended without agreement on any major issues.

The political bureau member of the hard-line Hamas movement, Mohammed Nazzal, said the factions agreed and adhered to a complete ceasefire in late June that lasted less than two months. He said it would be up to Sharon to declare his intentions to seek a full ceasefire. "We are saying if Sharon is ready to stop his killing against Palestinian people, let him declare that clearly, then we will study. But, we are not ready to make it again as a free initiative from the Palestinian side," he said.

Olmert's Call For Withdrawal From Palestinian Areas Sparks Controversy

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has sparked a political storm with his call for a unilateral withdrawal of troops from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Left-wing politicians came out in support of his stand, while some right-wing Cabinet ministers called for his removal from the government.

Olmert stood firm on Sunday, repeating his view that a unilateral troop withdrawal from most of the Palestinian territories is the only way to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel. His position, first spelled out in an interview in Yediot Achronot stunned political parties.

The justice minister and head of the secular Shinnui Party, Yosef Lapid, said the interview was politically courageous. The leader of the opposition Labor Party, Shimon Peres, pledged to support Olmert if he meant what he said. Their statements contrasted with strong opposition from other quarters, including Olmert's own ruling Likud Party.

Even the most dovish of the Likud Cabinet ministers, including Meir Sheetrit, refused to defend Olmert. "It's a nice statement, but I don't think it's feasible," he said. "I don't accept it. I think that, as a matter of fact, withdrawing one-sided is a way of escaping from reality. I think that the better way to go is to really try to make an effort, in order to arrive at peace with the Palestinians, and then withdraw from the territories. I don't see any reason to withdraw from the territories without getting back anything."

Another cabinet minister, Effi Eitam, the leader of the National Religious Party, threatened to pull his faction out of the government, if Olmert's plan is accepted. "I think it is a very dangerous declaration, because the actual meaning of what he said is that terror can and will defeat the state of Israel, and will cause the government, the army, to run away in the middle of the night," commented Eitam.

Other ministers also strongly questioned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during Sunday's Cabinet meeting about Olmert's comments. One minister asked why Olmert was allowed to make his views known before they had been discussed within private government forums. Sharon, who has himself spoken recently of taking unilateral steps to end the conflict with the Palestinians, promised that the issue would be fully debated at a future meeting of the Israeli Cabinet.

MK Eldad Acts to Prevent Temple Mount Arafat Burial


Knesset member Aryeh Eldad (National Union) submitted a Knesset bill Sunday outlawing burial on the Temple Mount. There have been reports recently that Yasir Arafat intends to be buried there to strengthen the Arab claim to Judaism's holiest site. "I intend to prevent the transformation of the Temple Mount into a Palestinian national site," Eldad said.

Eldad submitted the proposed law, which also prohibits burial within Jerusalem's Old City, in response to increasing reports that Arafat intends to be buried on the Temple Mount - in a final attempt, according to Eldad, "to strengthen the Arab hold on Judaism's holiest site."

"This law is intended to prevent this severe act," explained Eldad, adding that already an Arab family claiming ownership to a burial plot along the western wall of the Temple Mount is prepared to hand it over to Arafat.

MK Eldad explained that, "Jewish tradition from the Second Temple period has even forbidden burial within the walls of the Old City. The only exceptions were the Jewish residents of the Old City killed during the War of Independence." He added, "The Arab occupiers are attempting to bury their dead within the Old City walls and on the Temple Mount as a means of creating political and religious facts on the ground in Jerusalem."

"I propose," said Eldad, "that just as many Jews want to be buried in the land of their fathers, having their bodies brought to Israel for burial, Yasir Arafat should be returned to Egypt, his homeland, for burial."

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