Newsletter : 4fax0310.txt
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U.S., Jordan Seek Details of Sharon Plan for Gaza Withdrawal
By David Gollust (VOA-Washington)
Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Jordanian counterpart, Foreign Minister Marwan
Muasher, said on Tuesday that there are still many unanswered questions about Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon's plans for a pullout from Gaza. It was announced that a senior U.S.
diplomatic team would leave for Israel Wednesday to pursue the issue further. Neither
Powell nor Muasher are dismissing the Sharon proposals out of hand, especially the notion
of an evacuation of most Israeli settlements from Gaza.
But in a talk with Washington reporters, both said more consultations were needed with
Israel, before it could be determined if the Sharon ideas would advance, or sidetrack, the
international "road map," which has been the basis of U.S. Middle East diplomacy.
Powell said the United States has a number of concerns, including, he suggested, the
prospect of a security vacuum in Gaza, if the Palestinian Authority were not ready to or
capable of controlling the area. "After the withdrawal of the settlements and the Israeli
forces, what will be the arrangement in Gaza? Will the Palestinian Authority be prepared
for the task of managing the region? So, there are as lot of questions of this nature," he
Muasher, for his part, questioned aloud whether Sharon's ideas for "disengagement" from
the Palestinians are intended to complement, or replace, the road map. "It's important to
know whether this will be a full withdrawal from Gaza, or not, whether this will be in
connection with other withdrawals from the settlements in the West Bank, whether this is
going to be done in the context of the 'road map,' or a replacement to it," he said.
"There are many questions that need to be answered, here, and, I think, if they are
answered in a proper way, that we are going to have an opportunity to finally move the
'road map' forward."
The secretary's meeting with the Jordanian foreign minister also dealt with the Bush
administration's initiative for democratic reform in the Middle East, which has drawn a
mixed reaction from Arab governments, several of which have said that progress on the
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts should come first.
Muasher said the Arab states are not using the stalled peace process "as an excuse,"
but he said the reform process would be "aided to a great extent" by serious attention to,
and resolution of, the conflict. Secretary Powell, for his part, reaffirmed the United
States is not trying to impose reform on the region, and that such an attempt, in any
case, "wouldn't work."
Mastermind of Achille Lauro Hijacking Dies
Mohammed Abbas, the Palestinian mastermind of the Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking
in 1985, has died of natural causes in U.S. custody in Iraq, U.S. and Palestinian
officials said on Tuesday.
"We have been informed that Mohammed Abbas or Abu Abbas, head of the Palestine
Liberation Front (PLF), who has been held in American custody, has died in Iraq," said a
Palestinian official close to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat.
He added that the death of Abbas, who was held by U.S. forces since April last year, was
"related to his deteriorating health situation."
In Washington, a Defense Department spokesman confirmed Abbas's death. "Initial reports
indicate that he apparently died of natural causes. Medical efforts to revive him were
unsuccessful. An autopsy will be performed," the spokesman, Bryan Whitman, told reporters.
He refused to say where Abbas died. Another defense official, who asked not to be
identified, said he was being held in Iraq at the time of his death.
The U.S. military in Baghdad earlier said it had no information on the report. Members
of Abbas' group in the West Bank and Gaza Strip said they were unaware Abbas' death. "We
are still verifying this issue," said PLF spokesman Wasel Abu Yousef.
Abbas masterminded the hijacking of the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro in October
1985 during which a wheelchair-bound American Jew, 69-year-old Leon Klinghoffer, was
killed and thrown into the sea. Abbas, who was not on board the ship during the attack,
spent most of the past 17 years in Iraq, eluding U.S. and Italian officials. He was
believed to be in his late 50s or early 60s.
The Iraqi-based PLF embarrassed the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership with
the Achille Lauro hijacking and a failed sea-borne attack on Israel in 1990. Abbas later
renounced violence when his pro-Arafat faction backed the PLO's decision to halt attacks
against Israel after the 1993 Oslo peace accords were signed.
Italy released Abbas after U.S. warplanes intercepted his jet and forced it to land in
Italy shortly after the Achille Lauro hijacking. But it tried Abbas and sentenced him to
five life terms in prison after he had already left the country.
Washington dropped a warrant for Abbas' arrest several years ago and Israel declared
him immune from prosecution over the hijacking in 1999 after he was allowed to return to
Gaza by officials who concluded he was no longer involved in militancy.
After his capture, Washington said it wanted to bring Abbas to justice, but the issue
became entangled in legal and diplomatic problems such as the possibility the U.S. statute
of limitations had expired and extradition difficulties with Italy.
El Al Prices Deterring U.S. Jews from Vacation
Jews from the United States who would like to come to spend Passover in Israel are
being put off by the high price of tickets on El Al, the manager of a Jerusalem hotel
A flight from New York costs between $1,000-$1,200 per person, and this is too much for
people who want to bring their families, says Ariella Shmida-Doron, manager of the
Jerusalem Gold Hotel. "A person coming from Chicago has to fork out $1,500 for tickets. I
have heard that religious travel agents in New York are talking about transferring
passengers to Turkish Airlines, even though they would prefer to fly El Al," she says.
She said that it is not enough for the hotels to offer special deals for the holiday
because the price of the ticket makes it impossible for many to come. "They ask me if El
Al is cut off from the reality in Israel. The economic situation in the U.S. is also not
so good and this makes traveling for Passover very problematic."
Yoav Levy, deputy manager for commerce at El Al, said he has not heard any complaints.
"El Al tries to keep ahead of its competitors both with respect to its product and its
prices. The company is keen to encouraging tourism to Israel. We offer a variety of prices
and deals, which prove themselves, as, can be seen in the business figures of the company.
El Al increased its section of the market in 2003 by 3.7 percent while the rest of the
market shrunk by one percent," he added.
Meanwhile, the increase in tourism to Israel seen since the start of the year,
continued into March. In the first week of this month, there were 56.2 percent more
tourists than in the same period last year. In the first week of the month, 107,000
passengers passed through Ben-Gurion Airport, as compared with 69,000 in the same period
last year. Of these, 54,000 were arrivals and 53.8 percent were departures. There were an
additional 695 transit passengers.
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