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>JN Dec. 15, 2003, Vol. 11, No. 217

"The Kotel is Part of al-Aqsa"

By IsraelNationalNews.com

The PA-appointed Jerusalem Mufti, Akram Sabri, in his Friday Temple Mount sermon stated the Kotel (Western Wall) "is ours," part of the al-Aqsa Mosque.

As such he explained that the Western Wall is holy to Islam as is the case with other Temple Mount fixtures. He Islamic cleric rejected any Israeli claim to any portions of the Temple Mount, insisting the entire area is holy to the Islam and Islam alone.


Palestinians Mark 'Black Day' of Saddam Capture; Hamas: U.S. Will Pay

By Ha'aretz, Reuters & IsraelNationalNews.com

Disbelief and gloom seized many Palestinians on Sunday at news of Saddam Hussein's capture while Israel, which came under Iraqi Scud missile attack in the 1991 Gulf War, hailed the United States for capturing Saddam.

The former Iraqi ruler was a hero to many Palestinians for his stand against Israel and its U.S. ally, as well as for giving financial aid to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and others who died in a three-year-old uprising.

For Israel, he was a menace over the horizon that long bankrolled the enemy and the Iraqi leader rained at least 30 Scud missiles on Israeli cities during the 1991 Gulf War.

"It's a black day in history," said Sadiq Husam, 33, a taxi driver in Ramallah, West Bank seat of the Palestinian Authority. "I am saying so not because Saddam is an Arab, but because he is the only man who said 'no' to American injustice in the Middle East."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told reporters Sunday that he called President Bush and congratulated him on the successful operation by coalition forces leading to Hussein's arrest. "I told Bush that today was a great day for the democratic world, for those fighting for freedom and justice, and for those who object to terror. The entire world can breath a sigh of relief, because the dictator who ruined Iraq cannot interfere with its reconstruction and rehabilitation.

"I congratulated Bush for his brave standing against world terror. I believe all dictatorships, especially those contaminated with terror, have learned an important lesson today. The enlightened international community has shown that when it is asked to do so, it can protect freedom and defeat terror," Sharon said.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat and his government made no comment. But Abdel-Aziz al-Rantissi, a senior leader of the militant Hamas group, said the United States would "pay a very high price for the mistake" of capturing Saddam. "What the United States did is ugly and despicable. It is an insult to all Arabs and an insult to Muslims," he told Reuters.

Islamic factions sworn to Israel's destruction have taken strength from Iraqi resistance and cautioned on Sunday that Saddam's capture would not end attacks on U.S. forces. Saddam paid over $35 million to the kin of Palestinian suicide bombers, militants and bystanders who died in an uprising that began in 2000.

Although far from all Palestinians supported him, militants marched to back Saddam ahead of the U.S.-led invasion in March and Palestinian protesters were often heard chanting: "Oh, Saddam. Oh, Saddam. Bomb, bomb Tel Aviv". During the 1991 Gulf War, Palestinians cheered as Iraqi Scud missiles crashed into Israeli cities.

Former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz assisted U.S. officials in positively identifying Saddam following his apprehension. Aziz has been in U.S. custody for the past several months.

The arrest of Saddam Hussein sent Israeli stocks and bonds soaring on tremendous turnover Sunday. Many pundits predicted the spike would be transitory, but others see Saddam's capture reducing the regional risk premium, lowering oil prices and pressing down global inflation. Either way, the news sent triggered a burst of optimism on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. The Maof-25 index rose 3.4% to 494.9 points and the broader Tel Aviv-100 index advanced 3.2% to 522.6 points.


Sharon to Reiterate Support for Palestinian Sate

By Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz

In his much-awaited "Herzliya speech" this Thursday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is expected to emphasize Israel's commitment to the road map plan for an agreement with the Palestinians. He is also due to reiterate support for a contiguous Palestinian state, which he had articulated at the Aqaba summit.

Sharon is also expected to say that, should it turn out to be impossible to make progress with the road map, Israel will consider implementing unilateral steps designed to reduce tensions between Jews and Arabs.

As Sharon sees it, these unilateral steps would create a maximum amount of security for Israel throughout an interim period that would last until circumstances appropriate for the resumption of talks with the Palestinian Authority materialize. A senior Israeli official clarified this weekend that "such unilateral steps would be taken only if it is proven definitively that the road map plan's potential has been fully exhausted."

Sharon will cite in his speech steps to be taken by Israel with the aim of creating trust prior to the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. The working assumption is that these steps will be taken in any scenario, either in a process of mutual agreement with the Palestinians or unilaterally. The senior Israeli official explained that these measures would be on a small scale.

Sharon wants to coordinate his policies with the Bush administration. Officials in the White House regard the "Herzliya speech" as an important diplomatic event, and they are preparing a response to Sharon's statements. Sharon's bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, plans to visit Washington after the speech, to discuss its policy implications with American officials.

The U.S. government has indicated its reservations about unilateral Israeli steps. It has expressly noted its opposition to any Israeli move that could damage the road map plan, and impede the future establishment of a Palestinian state.

Cognizant of the U.S. position, Israeli officials will emphasize that any unilateral steps will be security-oriented, and not designed to create new political facts. According to the senior Israeli official, Sharon has no intention of declaring the annexation of any part of the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

Israel remains committed to Oslo Agreement obligations, under which the sides are to refrain from actions that will predetermine aspects of a final-status agreement, the official said. Under Israel's interpretation, these Oslo obligations mean Israel must refrain from annexation measures in the territories, just as the Palestinians are not to declare unilaterally the establishment of a state.




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