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Dimona-Tel Aviv Line Next Year


Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that in January 2005, residents of the southern city of Dimona will be able to travel to Tel Aviv in 40 minutes using the new rail line currently under construction. Lieberman added the NIS 180 million project will link up to the existing Be'er Sheva line in several locations, thereby simplifying the project and lowering costs.

El Al Planes Due to Receive Anti-Missile System


Israel Aircraft Industries' Flight Guard anti-missile system for civilian airliners has passed the development stage and is currently being installed on El Al passenger jets according to a report by Globes.

El Al purchased the first systems from IAI subsidiary Elta Electronic Industries in recent weeks according to the Globes report and the system is expected to be installed on El Al's Boeing 767s within two months. The Defense Ministry, which is paying for the purchase of the new systems, has budgeted 6 million shekels for El Al's initial purchase of the systems. The estimated cost of one system is $700,000, which means that initially two systems would probably be installed.

In recent years, the Elta defense system has been installed on 160 planes in 12 countries. Among other things, the system has been installed on the Israeli Air Force's Blackhawk helicopters, cargo planes around the globe, and private jets for heads of state.

The push for the installation of the system on civilian aircraft intensified following Al Qaida's unsuccessful attempt to shoot down an Arkia Airlines passenger plane taking off from the Mombassa Airport in Kenya in November 2002. Following the attempt, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the Ministry of Defense to adapt the military defense system for passenger planes.

The scramble to neutralize the threat of shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles may prove profitable for Israel's defense industries. The first operational system is taking place only 18 months after development began and defense industry foresees great potential for selling this product to defense systems in the global civil aviation market.

US Envoys in Israel for Disengagement Talks

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Three senior U.S. envoys arrived in Israel Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about his plan for unilateral disengagement from the Palestinian territories. Sharon has said that if peace talks with the Palestinians do not yield results, Israel would soon begin taking unilateral action. That, he indicated, would include dismantling most of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and some in the West Bank.

The Prime Minister has provided few details of the disengagement plan, but it has already stirred a heated debate among Israelis and Palestinians. Recent opinion polls show that the majority of Israelis questioned favor giving up settlements as a step toward peace. But, there is vehement opposition from settlers and from right-wing groups, who see Sharon's proposals as outright betrayal.

Several hundred right-wing rabbis from the West Bank, Gaza and Israel met in Jerusalem on Tuesday to denounce the disengagement plan as a sin and a crime against the Jewish people. The statements were greeted with alarm by left-wing members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, who said such pronouncements by Jewish religious leaders amount to releasing the safety catch on a weapon.

The Palestinians are wary of Sharon's plan. They would certainly welcome any Israeli pull-out from Palestinian areas, which they want as part of their future state. But, they do not want unilateral dictates to replace peace negotiations and they fear that Sharon's plan would result in de-facto borders, drawn by Israel.

The visiting American team, including Steve Hadley and Elliot Abrams from the National Security Council and State Department envoy William Burns, will want to hear details from Sharon about his plan. The Prime Minister will seek to calm American concerns by assuring Washington that his unilateral actions will not undermine broader negotiations along the lines of the Road Map peace plan, which Washington has endorsed.

Mughrabim Wall Collapse Attributed To Apathy


A problematic wall along the ascent to the Mughrabim Gate of the Temple Mount, adjacent to the Western Wall Plaza, has been removed - but not the problems themselves.

Archaeologist Eilat Mazar said that the entire "hill" leading up to the Mughrabim Gate is shaky, and that the authorities have negligently ignored it over the years. A perfect view of the hill, gate, and former wall can be seen at

The wall began to crumble during the recent snowstorm in Jerusalem and following last week's earthquake, and a crane operator was called in on Monday to totally remove the wall so as not to endanger the female worshipers below (the men pray well to the left of the area). Speaking with Arutz-7's Yosef Meiri, Mazar said that the lack of professional archaeological treatment of the hill is symptomatic of a general negligence and apathy in the entire area - as evidenced most clearly by the lack of an Israeli stand against the Waqf's construction works on the Temple Mount.

Mazar has long warned of a collapse in the Temple Mount area. "The Mount is built atop large underground caverns," she said. "Ever since the earthquake of 1927, when the structure collapsed, no one has checked the status of the walls and the caverns. From the outside can be seen worrisome signs such as cracks and bulges. The entire compound is shaky... The refurbishing work that is supposedly going on is not serious - but at the same time, though, the Muslim Waqf is continuing its works without any supervision."

Many Kosher Shoppers in New York are Poor, New Study Shows


A significant number of New York's poor live in religious neighborhoods and purchase kosher food on a regular basis, a recently released study shows. This would seem to indicate that the kosher industry needs to be concerned with an extremely price sensitive region.

According to the Metropolitan Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty, while poverty among most groups throughout the U.S. appears to have declined during the last decade, the level of poverty in Jewish households in the eight-county New York area has risen to 244,000 people, resulting in the highest level of Jewish poverty in the nation. Ninety-three percent or 226,000 live in New York City where Jewish poverty has increased to 21 percent of Jewish households.

Of the five boroughs, Brooklyn has the most severe Jewish poverty, with 156,200 people or 30 percent of Jewish households. Queens is second highest at 42,700 or 19 percent of Jewish households. In New York City, the largest numbers of poor or 60,000 (27 percent) are in larger Orthodox Jewish households, all of who eat kosher. Others are Russian-speaking persons under age 65, Russian-speaking persons over age 65, people with disabilities and unable to work, the unemployed, and people with less than a college education.

In addition, the eight-county New York area contains many individuals living in households where the economic status can be described as "near poor," with 104,000 people living in 53,000 Jewish near poor households. About 20 percent of these are located in Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties.

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