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Sabbath Inspectors Returning to Work


Industry & Trade Minister Ehud Olmert told Knesset member Avraham Ravitz of the United Torah Judaism Party that Sabbath inspectors would resume operations in the near future. Olmert stopped the Sabbath inspectors about a month ago. In other Israeli news, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan expressed delight over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's announced plan to eliminate the Jewish presence in Gaza by evicting Jews from their homes and communities. The U.N. leader indicated the plan was a step in the right direction, adding he hopes Sharon takes the same measures in Judea and Samaria. Sharon has indicated he does not object to a possible national referendum on the issue of evicting Jews from their Gaza area homes

Sharon's Decision to Relocate Settlers Creates Political Firestorm

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

Political analysts are expressing surprise and skepticism at Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's announcement that he is preparing to remove all the Israeli settlements from Gaza.

The one-time champion of the Jewish settler movement turned his back on his most loyal supporters this week, when he announced Jewish settlers would have no place in the Gaza Strip and will also be removed from parts of the West Bank. In announcing the plan, Sharon declared that it was a difficult decision to make and that, except for the settlers themselves, no one could feel more pain than himself.

Sharon said he was acting in the interest of Israel's development, security and economy for the years to come. He said, 'it pains me greatly, but this is my responsibility and therefore...I intend to carry it out.'

The announcement ignited a political firestorm. None were more outraged than the settlers themselves. "It is unbelievable," said Shaul Goldstein, a settler leader and mayor of the Gush Etzion block of settlements in the West Bank. "We ran out of Lebanon, the Hizbullah was chanting. We are running out of Gaza, God forbid, Hamas is chanting. The world recognizes that Hizbullah and Hamas are terror organizations. They are getting the best prizes for their terror. We have to stop it."

Despite the outrage expressed by settler groups, Sharon says he wants their backing but the settlers say they will work to remove him as prime minister, if he tries to carry out the plan. Even members of Sharon's party expressed outrage, in part because he was elected prime minister on a promise to negotiate such issues only as part of a peace agreement.

Likud member of parliament Ehud Yatom accused the prime minister of selling out the party, and adopting the position of the former leader of the opposition Labor Party, Amram Mitzna, whom Sharon defeated in the last election. "The Likud was elected to bring an agreement with the Palestinians, and now we are going with Mitzna's plan," he said.

The parties of the religious right that make up a small, but significant, part of Sharon's ruling coalition threatened to pull out of the government, if he does not seek Cabinet approval of the plan. The prime minister countered that he would form a new government without them, if need be.

But although offers of support for the Sharon plan were not long in coming, forming a new government without the religious right would not be easy. Members of the left-wing Meretz Party backed the plan, as did the opposition Labor Party. But Labor stopped short of saying it would be part of a new Sharon government, and Meretz is politically far away from Sharon on most issues.

The former defense minister and current Labor member of parliament, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said the prime minister would find support for removing the Gaza settlements from the opposition benches. "The only thing he could expect from us for the time being, [is] that we will support him from outside. As long as he is running with a breakthrough, I am talking about Gaza, 19 hands of the Labor Party will give him [an] umbrella."

The plan Sharon outlined to his Likud Party is the first step in a phased withdrawal that would result in the relocation of an estimated 7,500 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. Sharon did not say when he might do that. But Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted at what the government is thinking in that regard.

"My personal assessment is that, sometime toward June, [or] July, this will become an unavoidable reality," he said. "By then, Israel has to be ready with a new strategy. Now, to say that by the end of the year there will be no Jews in the Gaza district is a little bit far to go at this point." Sharon has been a strong supporter of settlement activity in the occupied territories. But he has spoken previously of taking unilateral steps, if there is no negotiated peace deal.

Palestinians reacted with skepticism. Yasir Arafat's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, called the unilateral withdrawal idea a distraction from what should be the only way forward, the internationally backed peace plan, known as the Roadmap. "What we have on the table is the 'road map'," said Rudeineh. "If they are serious and willing and ready, as we are, they should stop all their settlement activities."

There are indications that the Israeli public may be ready to embrace the plan. A poll published in Yediot Achronot this week showed that 59 percent of Israelis back the unilateral evacuation plan for Gaza settlements. Less than two months ago, a similar survey showed only 50 percent favored such a move.

Palestinian Official Charges U.S. with Political 'Blackmail'

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Ramallah, West Bank)

A top Palestinian security official has accused the United States of political blackmail by refusing to help distribute aid in the Gaza Strip until Palestinian police arrest suspects in the deaths of three Americans. The Americans, all security guards, were killed last fall when a roadside bomb in Gaza hit their diplomatic convoy.

Palestinian chief Yasir Arafat's security advisor, Jibril Rajoub, accused the U.S. administration of blackmail in pressing the Palestinians to find and arrest those responsible for the killings.

He told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday the actions of the U.S. administration are not justified, saying that U.S. officials are punishing the Palestinian Authority, and that's unfair. "You know that the Americans stopped their involvement, waiting for the results of the investigation. And I think this is blackmail. And I think that the Americans are using this case, this isolated case, in order not to be involved or to blackmail the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority, which is not fair."

Following the Oct. 15 bombing, U.S. officials have stopped going to Gaza, making it more difficult to distribute aid for the Palestinians. Rajoub said the Palestinian Authority is doing all it can to find those responsible for the attack. "I don't think you should blame the Palestinian Authority, but you should know that we have the commitment and we have the interest to solve, to arrest, to send those guys to the court, but we should not be blackmailed on this issue," he said.

U.S. officials appear unconvinced by Rajoub, saying privately it is inconceivable that Palestinian militants could have planned and carried out the attack without the knowledge of the Palestinian Authority.

U.S. College Republicans Respond to Suicide Bombers


The College Republicans at the University of Texas are encouraging students to wear shirts that read, "If I were a Homicide Bomber you'd be dead right now. Do not let terrorists deter democracy! Support America. Support Israel."

The T-shirts, which the students created and are selling on their website,, are in response to the on-going terrorist attacks around the world.

Bryan Pravda, executive director of public relations for the College Republicans at Texas, said, "We are wearing these shirts in classrooms, on buses, and in local coffee shops. The aim of the message is for people to appreciate the freedom in which they are living." Pravda continued, "Both America and Israel want peace, but the war on terror is necessary so citizens do not have to live in fear."

Brian Bodine, chairman of the College Republicans at Texas, asserted, "Freedom and liberty should not have to be attributed to the Republican Party or the Democrat Party. However, President Bush is the only leader [out of the Presidential candidates] firmly defending these inalienable rights."

Pravda stated, "Gruesome and horrific murders targeted at the innocent in Israel, America, Turkey, Iraq and other allies of freedom, have called us into action in creating these shirts. Some say that our shirts are offensive, but I find silence in the face of terror a greater offense."

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