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Is This an April Fool's Story?

EU: PA did not use Funds for Terror


A European Union report based on an investigation into donor nation funds concluded the PA did not use the monies to fund terrorism. The investigation tracked funds donated to the PA by the EU communities from the end of 2000 through 2002. EU officials report investigators spoke with PA officials as well as reviewing IDF intelligence documents.

PA General Pocketed Pay of 7,000 Fictitious Soldiers

By Ha'aretz

An examination of the payrolls of the Palestinian Authority's National Security force, considered the largest of the Palestinian security forces, commanded by Gen. Haj Ismail Jabber, has revealed that salaries for 7,000 fictitious troopers were being paid into his pocket every month.

The salaries for police at the lower ranks range from $300-400 a month, which means that some $2 million a month from PA funds was being paid to the general. For the past eight months donor countries have been demanding the PA stop the practice of handing over the cash payrolls of the security services to the commanders of each of the separate forces, for them to hand out as pay to their subordinates.

The donor countries, including the European Union and other countries have been demanding PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad cease the practice, and indeed, during the government of Mahmoud Abbas, troops from parts of the Preventive Security force, the police and civil defense units were paid through direct payments into their bank accounts. According to Abbas, some 22 percent of the Palestinian police were paid that way during his term.

But over the same period Jabber, backed by Yasir Arafat, refused to provide a list of his troops, which led to clashes with Fayyad, including attacks on the PA's treasury offices in Gaza. Stepped-up pressure on Fayyad by donor countries to come up with the full payroll lists, combined with a PA budget deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars that makes the PA desperate for the donations, led a few days ago to the transfer to the PA treasury of a diskette with the full list of names of people receiving salaries from Jabber. And there, it turned out that while Jabber was claiming salaries for 37,000 people, there were only 30,000 on the list.

Sharon Warns Israel Could Move Against Arafat


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned that Israel could move against Yasir Arafat, shortly after the Palestinians said the Jewish state's planned pullout from Gaza could compromise any peace deal. Sharon was quoted as making the threat in a series of media interviews, to be broadcast at a later date, ahead of the upcoming Jewish Passover holiday.

"It's not certain that Arafat can maintain his place forever," he was quoted as saying by public television in a series of media interviews. Sharon issued the warning while trying to promote his plan to unilaterally "disengage" from the Palestinians, which notably includes evacuating most of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and a controversial separation barrier with the West Bank.

Apart from his battle to win Washington's backing for the project, Sharon faces opposition from right-wing members of his coalition cabinet, including members of his own right-wing Likud party. In a bid to steamroll the project through, Sharon decided earlier this week to allow the entire Likud party membership to vote on the project, hoping a victory in a referendum would blunt opposition from his senior colleagues.

Arafat has been confined by the Israeli military to his battered headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah since December 2001. The aging Palestinian leader is authorized to leave the occupied territories, but Israel says there is no guarantee he will be allowed to return. The Israeli security cabinet approved in principle in September to "remove" Arafat from Ramallah, with one minister even suggesting that assassination was an option.

Sharon's statement came hours after Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei met with three senior U.S. diplomats -- Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and National Security Council Middle East affairs head Elliot Abrams -- in the West Bank town of Jericho ahead of their meeting with Sharon.

Qorei told reporters he sought guarantees from the Americans that Sharon's plan to evacuate most of Gaza Strip would not stymie attempts for a comprehensive agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also warned the Americans that unilateral moves would be counterproductive. "Unilateralism is not the solution. Unilateralism brings no commitment from the Palestinian side. We are not against the withdrawal from Gaza but as a step towards implementation of the roadmap," he added, in reference to the U.S.-backed peace project which has made little progress since it was mutually endorsed last June.

Sharon has said he has no option but to implement unilateral measures in the absence of progress in the bilateral peace process with the Palestinians. There was no comment from the U.S. envoys as they left Jericho, and headed for their meeting with Sharon in Jerusalem. Sharon's office later said they discussed the talks he is due to hold with President George W. Bush in the White House on April 14. The premier has said he will only embark on the disengagement plan if he has the support of the United States.

In return for withdrawing from Gaza and a handful of other West Bank settlements, Sharon is understood to want U.S. guarantees, including an assurance that Israel will not have to retreat to the Green Line that separates the Jewish state from the West Bank.

Seven-Meter Layer of Natural Gas Found in Dead Sea

By Ha'aretz

A seven-meter layer of natural gas has been found in the Dead Sea, Ginko Oil Exploration Ltd. announced on Thursday. The gas was found while the company was drilling for oil and gas in an area adjacent to Kibbutz Ein Gedi.

Ginko Oil Exploration Ltd. said that since the discovery of the natural gas, negotiations have been held with local and foreign companies on developing the gas field. The natural gas discovered is composed of methane, ethane, propane, and butane. These types of gases also usually comprise cooking gas. Ginko Oil Exploration Ltd. is a private company controlled by businessman Rami Karmin.

Palestinians Passionate About Jesus Film


Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion of the Christ" is all the rage among Palestinians, curious about complaints by Jews that it is anti-Semitic. Meanwhile, local distributors in Israel are shunning the film, which Jewish groups say demonizes Jews by depicting them as pressuring the Romans into crucifying Jesus. The film has banked more than $315 million since its release in February.

Only one percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are Christians while the other 99% are Muslims, who revere Jesus as a prophet but do not believe he was crucified. The portrayal of a prophet in a film is forbidden under Islam.

"People are calling me from everywhere in the West Bank -from Bethlehem, Hebron, Ram Allah and Nablus- to ask for copies of the movie," said the owner of a Gaza city video shop, which sells pirated copies of new release movies.

In Israel, the local agent for the film's international distributor Icon Entertainment said it passed on its option to show "The Passion of the Christ," but declined to specify its reasons other than to say the movie was "sensitive." Industry insiders in Israel say local distributors are not interested in the film because of allegations it is anti-Semitic and for expected lukewarm audience response.

Jewish groups and some Roman Catholic clerics have expressed concern the film could foment anti-Jewish attacks. Palestinian chieftain Yasir Arafat watched a preview of the film at his West Bank headquarters earlier this month. Aides said he found the film "moving."

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