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Jerusalem of Cold


The first snowstorm (not including on Mt. Hermon) of Winter 2003-4 (5764) hit Israel Saturday, and many towns were all but closed down Sunday. School was called off in the Jerusalem area, as well as in the north and the northern Golan. Transportation in the capital resumed later Sunday, but remained inoperative in many regions throughout much of the day. Two-to-four inches piled up in the capital. The temperatures in Jerusalem dropped from 52 degrees in the morning to 32 by afternoon (11-0 Centigrade). Welcome flooding is expected over the coming days from the mountains into the Kinneret Sea, Israel's largest reservoir, but potentially dangerous flooding is anticipated in the Negev and Judean Desert.

Palestinian PM Urges U.S. Firmness on 'Road Map'

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

The Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, has urged the United States not to support Israel's proposal to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. He said the U.S. should maintain its backing for the international "road map" to peace plan.

Qureia said he was disturbed by recent reports that the U.S. may be leaning towards giving approval to unilateral moves proposed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He said it would be "regrettable" if the United States supported Sharon's plan.

Queria's remarks followed the issuing of a statement from the Palestinian leadership expressing fears that Sharon plans to move Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip simply to re-locate them in the West Bank. The Palestinian cabinet instead wants Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian cabinet also said that Washington should stick to supporting the international "road map" to peace plan, which calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005. Sharon's cabinet has also endorsed the "road map."

Sharon said that if negotiations with the Palestinians do not produce any progress under the plan within the next few months, then he would start unilateral moves. The prime minister said the proposals include removing most if not all settlements in the Gaza Strip.

His statements have greatly angered Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip. About 100 settlers began a four-day march from the territory to Sharon's residence in Jerusalem to protest against the plans.

Opinion polls indicate most Israelis support an evacuation of settlements from the Gaza Strip, but the settlers claim that such a move would only encourage more Palestinian terrorism.

Recent Mideast Earthquake Endangers Church Building in Bethlehem

By Ross Dunn (VOA News, Bethlehem) & Ha'aretz

The pastor at one of the most prominent churches in Bethlehem says the building is in danger of collapsing, following last week's earthquake that shook parts of the Middle East. The tremors also inflicted minor damage to some of the shrines most closely associated with the birth of Jesus.

Rev. Mitri Raheb of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem warned townsfolk that his sanctuary has become a potentially lethal danger zone following last Wednesday's earthquake. He said urgent repairs were needed at the shrine, whose steeple in the center of Bethlehem dominates the skyline in the reputed birthplace of Jesus.

Raheb told VOA that parts of the shrine cracked open in the earthquake and he fears more of it may collapse. The danger is that the king stone at the top of the steeple broke in half and part of it fell. "Thank God it did not hit anyone. Our fear is that if the second part of it will collapse, more and more stones will just start collapsing one after the other." He said he would soon seek foreign financial support to ensure that safety is restored at the site.

His church was not the only one affected. When the earthquake shook the Holy Land, the tremors also produced cracks in some of the most famous shrines of Bethlehem. Small fractures are now visible in the arched ceiling of the Church of St. Catherine, famous for the worldwide broadcast of midnight Mass on Christmas Eve each year. The Roman Catholic sanctuary is connected to the Church of the Nativity, built over the cave where tradition holds Jesus was born.

Repair work will begin soon in the Catholic shrine, which was fully restored in 1999 for the millennium celebrations marking 2000 years since the Christian messiah's birth.

A comprehensive inspection of the stability of the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem and the surrounding walls is urgently required, archaeologist Eilat Mazar said Sunday after visiting the site where an embankment near the Western Wall collapsed Saturday night. "A major collapse at the site, which would cause a major disaster, is only a matter of time."

Mazar, who runs a Hebrew University project to publish the findings of archaeological digs on the Mount, is also a member of the Committee for Preventing the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount and a senior fellow at the Shalem Center. She said state agencies are perpetually engaged in "putting out fires" when it comes to the stability of the Mount and its walls, but have avoided comprehensive inspection, supervision and preservation of the site.

On Saturday night, during a heavy snowfall, a 10-meter-wide section of the embankment's supporting wall collapsed. The embankment, which leads to the Mughrabim Gate - one of the main entrances to the Temple Mount - runs between the prayer area in front of the Western Wall and the archaeological excavations at the foot of the wall, to the south of the prayer area. Pieces of the collapsed embankment slid into the women's section of the prayer area, but nobody was hurt as they were all on the far side of the area, near the demarcation with the men's section. Until the embankment is repaired, the men's section will be divided in two and part of it turned over to the women.

According to the archaeologists of the Committee for Preventing the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount, the underground work done by the Muslim waqf and the Israeli Islamic Movement in the area of Solomon's Stables and the ancient Al-Aqsa over the last few years has altered the land and increased the danger of a collapse. The waqf rejects this, saying it employed authorized engineers to supervise all the work.

On Sunday, the waqf charged that the archaeological excavations Israel is conducting at the foot of the Western Wall caused the collapse of the embankment Saturday night. But the Antiquities Authority said the most likely explanation is that the collapse was brought on by a combination of last Wednesday's earthquake and Saturday's heavy snowfall. Mazar also thinks the earthquake was the main cause of the collapse.

Report: Arrow ABM System May be Infected with a Trojan Horse Virus


The Arrow anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system may have been infected with a Trojan Horse virus, which could at any time render the advanced system ineffective, Ma'ariv reported. The Arrow system, considered the most advanced in the world, is a joint project being developed by Israel with U.S. cooperation.

In the exclusive Ma'ariv report, it stated Israeli and Egyptian experts cooperated in certain spheres of the development of the "MOTIF" computer software used to operate the missile. Since learning a virus was inserted in the computer code, cooperation between Israeli and Egyptian scientists has been cut off. Ma'ariv stated it has documents confirming the accuracy of the report in addition to statements form a senior air force official.

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