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Menorah in Saddam's Palace


A Chanukah menorah has been lit inside one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. Baghdad-born artist Oded Halahmy, who now splits his time between Israel and New York, made the 14-inch tall menorah. It was brought to Baghdad after a request from U.S. Army Chaplain Col. Frank Wismer. The New York Jewish Week reported that Wismer wrote, in a letter to Halahmy, that personnel working at the palace are experiencing something akin to what the Jews must have experienced when the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem and put an end to the pagan worship that had desecrated the temple.

Iran Warns Israel Against Possible Attacks

By Israel Faxx News Services

Israel will "dig its own grave" if it attacks Iranian nuclear sites, the head of the Iranian air force, Gen. Seyed Reza Pardis warned Monday, reacting defiantly to threats by the Jewish state.

"The threats of the Zionist regime hold no value for us," Pardis was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency, close to Islamic hardliners, following statements by Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. "The (Zionist) regime knows that the armed forces of the Islamic republic, in particular our air force, have such high capabilities ... that it would be digging its own grave in the region if it launches military attacks against Iran. An attack (by Israel) would have serious consequences beyond the imagination of Israeli leaders," he warned.

Ha'aretz on Sunday quoted Iranian-born Mofaz as telling Israel Radio's Persian service last week that Israel is considering an operation to destroy the nuclear capabilities of Iran, regarded as the Jewish state's number one enemy following the fall of Saddam Hussein. If such attacks are launched, "the necessary steps will be taken so that Iranian citizens will not be harmed," Mofaz is quoted as saying.

"The Israeli regime's war minister must know that if ever these threats become reality, no place in Israel will be safe for the leaders of the country, and the Zionist regime will pay a particularly high price," Iranian Defense Minister Ali Chamkhani was quoted Monday as saying by student news agency ISNA.

But, Chamkhani added, Mofaz's threats appeared "unreal and improbable" to him, because Israel "has full knowledge of Iran's capacity to respond. Whether these threats are serious or not, our armed forces are totally prepared to defend sensitive sites and our country's air space," Pardis said. Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami reacted to Mofaz's threats by saying simply: "They (Israel) will go adrift."

Last month, Meir Dagan, head of Israel's Mossad overseas intelligence service, told lawmakers that Iran's nuclear program posed the biggest threat to the existence of the Jewish state since its creation in 1948.

He said Israel had discovered in recent months that Iran was close to finishing construction of a uranium enrichment plant in the central Kashan area that could eventually give it the capacity to build around a dozen nuclear bombs. And during a visit to Washington in November, Mofaz warned of the rising nuclear threat posed by Iran, saying that efforts must be taken to "slow down, stop or prevent" the program.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it has nuclear weapons, but Washington has accepted Israel as a nuclear power since 1969 and analysts say it has up to 200 sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Palestinians Assault Egyptian Foreign Minister at Jerusalem Mosque

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem) & Xinhua News Agency

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher returned home Monday evening after a short visit to Israel where he was assaulted by Muslim worshippers at the Al Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. During the one-day trip, Maher met separately with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on ways to break the deadlock of the Palestinian-Israeli peace track, Israel TV reported.

Maher, who was lightly injured, was taken to an Israeli hospital. Witnesses said Maher was jostled and possibly struck several times by angry Palestinians, who attempted to pelt him with shoes, both inside and outside the mosque. Throwing shoes is considered a traditional Muslim insult.

The mob accused the 68-year-old Egyptian foreign minister of being a traitor and a collaborator for holding talks with Israeli leaders. He reportedly complained of being short of breath and at one point cried out that he felt as if he was going to choke. Israeli police and bodyguards were seen escorting Maher out of the clutches of a crowd screaming abuse. He was later taken to a hospital, where Israeli doctors reported he was in good condition.

As is their custom, Israeli security officers had escorted Maher and his delegation to the mosque, but did not enter with him. They went in after the violence started to help him get out. The Palestinian Authority has condemned the attack, and vowed to find those responsible. Some Palestinians were angry that Egypt agreed to send Maher to meet with Israeli officials after Israel said that the meeting could take place only if Maher agreed not to visit Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, who is confined to his ruined compound in Ramallah.

The site where Maher came under attack is holy to both Muslims and Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. It is one of the most sensitive religious sites in the Middle East, and has often been a flashpoint for violence and clashes. The current Palestinian uprising began there in September 2000, after a visit by Sharon, who was then in the opposition.

Thieves Vandalize Masada Fresco


Souvenir hunting thieves have stolen part of an ancient fresco from the Israeli archaeological site of Masada, Israeli officials said. The thieves removed a six-square-inch section of a fresco that decorated the ancient Herodian headquarters at Masada, located on a barren mountain overlooking the Dead Sea, the National Parks Authority said in a statement.

Masada was originally a palace built by the Roman-appointed Jewish King Herod on a desert mountain whose sheer sides served as a natural fortress.

After the Romans conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple in CE 70, Jewish fighters took refuge at Masada. But, as the Roman scribe Josephus recorded, the Roman Tenth Legion, who enlisted thousands of slaves to build a giant ramp to breach the walls, besieged them. Realizing they could not hold out for much longer, most of the fighters committed suicide rather than be taken captive.

Israeli archaeologists restored Masada in the 1960s and it is now one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. The fresco had recently been the object of a further costly restoration, but the thieves, who the National Parks Authority said were probably souvenir hunters rather than professionals, may have chosen the wrong target. Local legend has it that "those who took even a stone from Masada lived to regret it."

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