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Interior Minister Grounds Vanunu


Interior Minister (Shinui) Avraham Poraz Monday issued an order against Mordehai Vanunu, preventing him from leaving the country. Vanunu is scheduled to be released from prison on Wednesday after completing an 18-year sentence. He was convicted of releasing classified information regarding Israel's nuclear program and is still deemed a security risk by the government, prompting the order barring his travels abroad.

Sharon Gathers Support for Gaza Pullout Plan Amid Palestinian Outrage

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip launched mortar and rocket attacks at Jewish settlements on Monday, amid rising anger over Israel's killing of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Meanwhile, support is growing within Israel for the Prime Minister's plan to remove all settlements and troops from the territory.

Palestinians fired two homemade Kassam rockets early Monday at a Jewish settlement in the northern Gaza Strip, injuring one resident who was treated for shrapnel wounds. This was one in half-a-dozen attacks against Jewish settlements in the territory since Sunday, including rockets, mortar shells and anti-tank missiles. Six rockets were also fired from Gaza into Israel itself, landing near communities in the western Negev region. There were no reports of injuries.

And in the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a car at the entrance to the Jewish settlement bloc of Gush Katif. The latest violence comes one day after tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in the funeral for the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Abdel Aziz Al-Rantisi, who was killed in an Israeli military helicopter strike on Saturday.

Hamas, which is listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, has vowed to launch 100 violent attacks against Israel to avenge his death. Hamas also said it has already appointed a new leader in Gaza but will not name him for fear he would become the next target of the Israeli Army.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has gained majority support within the cabinet for his plan to unilaterally remove Jewish settlements and troops from the Gaza Strip. The majority was reached when Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and two other ministers, declared they would vote in favor of the plan. Netanyahu said Monday Israel would spend millions of dollars in West Bank settlements. All three are members of the ruling Likud Party that is set to hold a referendum on Sharon's proposals early next month. A victory in the poll would set the stage for the plan to go before the Cabinet and the parliament for approval.

Ahead of the referendum, Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidim have opened their own campaign against "disengagement". Beginning Monday, 500 buses are traveling around the country with signs reading: "The Lubavitcher Rebbe warns: Running away from Gush Katif is a terrible danger for millions of Jews." INN reported that the campaign is the work of the Rabbi Yekutiel Rap, a senior Chabad-Lubavitch leader in New York and the operator behind the Central Committee for Saving the People and the Land.

Analysts Express Concern over Bush Support of Sharon Disengagement Plan

By Meredith Buel (VOA-Washington)

Middle East specialists are expressing concern about President Bush's decision to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's efforts to unilaterally disengage from areas within the Palestinian territories. Bush administration officials hope the move will help renew the moribund peace process.

Bush became the first American president to publicly suggest that Israel would not have to return all of the land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war as part of a future peace agreement with the Palestinians. The president also said millions of refugees would have to find homes in a new Palestinian state, rather than reclaiming land in what is now Israel.

David Makovsky is the director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He said that after years of bloodshed during the current Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation, the Bush administration saw an opportunity to make progress by embracing Sharon's proposal to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and a handful of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

"What is in it for the United States? There have been three-and-a-half years of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, endless suicide bombings," he said. "The partnership that existed between Israelis and Palestinians is so shattered that the U.S. was looking for a novel way to jump start a deeply stalled peace process, and felt it was an advantage for the United States that the Arab world would see settlements coming down and Israel evacuating the Gaza Strip."

Both Israel and the Palestinians have discussed modifying long-held negotiating positions on borders, Jewish settlements and refugee returns in private, but Bush's public statements came as an unpleasant surprise to many in the Arab world. Chas Freeman is currently president of the Middle East Policy Council and was the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Persian Gulf War.

Freeman said the growing American support for the current Israeli government is tarnishing the U.S. image in the Arab world. "I think most Arabs, unfortunately, will now be convinced that the United States is completely part of the problem, and no longer part of the solution. We will no doubt pay a price for that."

Milton Viorst is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations who has been a news correspondent in the Middle East and a professor of journalism at Princeton University. He said the Israeli policies supported by President Bush might be self-defeating. "It just doesn't seem to be in the national interest of the United States. We are fighting this war on terror. We are seeking to ingratiate ourselves with the Islamic world. We are doing our best to show that we are even handed in dealing with the Middle East conflict. Yet what he seems to be doing is igniting more and more bombs, himself, in terms of dealing with the very people whose support we need in order to end the war on terrorism."

President Bush said Sharon's plan to withdraw soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip could open the door to progress toward a peaceful and viable Palestinian state. Ziad Asali, the president of the American Task Force on Palestine, said there could be a positive outcome to an Israeli pullout from Gaza if it jump-starts efforts to renew peace negotiations.

"Israel's withdrawal from Gaza can and should be made to fit in this grand vision," he said. "The challenge of all parties is to turn this into an opportunity to rebuild a new order in Gaza, one that will be the first solid step for the Palestinians to establish an independent, viable and democratic state. Israel, or that segment of it that wants security and peace, will have to define its risks on such a move and take them. The Palestinian majority must seize this opportunity to plan and build, rather than to passively watch, complain and assign blame."

Sharon's Likud Party is scheduled to vote on the disengagement plan in May. If approved, the Israeli government could begin removing Jewish settlements from Gaza and the West Bank sometime next year.

Israel: Hamas Leadership in Syria Could be Targeted

By Ha'aretz

Israel will consider attacking Hamas' compound in Damascus should the organization move its main power base to Syria following the assassinations of its former leaders, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, in Gaza.

There is no proof at this stage that orders to carry out terror attacks are being delivered by Hamas leaders in Damascus to members of the organization in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. However, during meetings recently held by Israeli political and security officials, participants agreed that should intelligence information point to Damascus as Hamas' nerve center, the option of targeting the organization in Syria could be considered.

Given Hizbullah's increasing support for Palestinian terror, Israel also will consider attacking the organization's targets in Lebanon, according to Israeli sources.

Following the March 22 assassination of Yassin, his successor, Rantisi, deviated from Hamas policy and encouraged Hizbullah and Iran to become directly involved in the organization's terror activity. This was one of the reasons why Israel decided to assassinate him. Continued Hizbullah involvement in Palestinian terror would pose a serious risk to the lives of the Shi'ite organization's leaders, Israeli security officials have warned.

In principle, Dr. Mahmoud a-Zahar, who was considered Rantisi's deputy, is supposed to head the organization. However, Israeli intelligence officials have learned that a-Zahar has sent signals to fellow Hamas leaders both in Gaza and overseas, particularly Khaled Mashal, that he does not want the top post, and certainly does not want it to be made public. Israeli officials assume that a-Zahar's reluctance is due to the killing of Yassin and Rantisi as well as an attempted assassination against him last summer in which he sustained injuries and one of his sons was killed.

Shortly after Saturday's assassination of Rantisi, Mashal announced that the identity of the new Hamas leader in Gaza would not be disclosed. In all likelihood, a collective leadership arrangement will materialize on the Gaza Strip that will include a-Zahar. Other prominent Hamas figures that might play a role in such a collective include Ismail Haniyeh, Sa'id Siam and Nizar I'an.

A top Israeli security official said Sunday that any figure that replaces Rantisi would be a potential assassination target. "Hamas, as a whole, is a ticking time bomb," the official said. "If they end the terror attacks, we'll end the activity against their leaders." Speaking at a Holocaust Day ceremony Sunday night, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said, "we will not cease to hunt down the killers of our children."

Israel's Restrictions on Vanunu Criticized

By VOA News &

Amnesty International has criticized the Israeli government for its plans to impose tight restrictions on a nuclear traitor after his release from jail this week. In a statement Monday, the rights group said Mordechai Vanunu, 49, should be allowed to speak freely and travel where he wishes, including outside the country. Amnesty said Israel's restrictions on the former nuclear technician were a violation of his human rights.

Sunday, lawyers for Vanunu appealed plans to ban him from speaking to foreigners and leaving Israel. He has said he wants to live with his adopted parents in the United States after leaving prison Wednesday. Israeli officials said the limits are needed to prevent him from further revealing Israeli secrets.

In a recent taped interview, Vanunu told Israeli officials he has no more secrets to tell, after spending 18 years in prison. In 1985, Vanunu gave a British newspaper photos and classified information on a nuclear reactor in the southern Israeli town of Dimona. Shortly before publication of the secrets, Israeli agents in Rome kidnapped Vanunu and returned him to Israel, where he was convicted in a closed trial of espionage and treason.

"I'm a hero... There's no need for a Jewish state - Jews can live anywhere; a Palestinian state is sufficient... The nuclear reactor in Dimona should be destroyed just like the reactor in Iraq... Judaism and Islam are retarded religions..." So said Vanunu in an "interview" with Defense Ministry officials taped two months ago in his prison cell.

Vanunu worked in the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev for several years, and then traveled around the world with sensitive photographs and information from the center in his possession. After converting to Christianity in Australia, he made the information known to the London Sunday Times, which published his story and photos on Oct. 5, 1986, turning the world's attention to Israel's nuclear capacities.

Despite his history, Vanunu does not see himself as a traitor: "Yes, it's true that I signed a commitment to secrecy, but all I wanted was to inform the world of information that Israel wished to hide... It's your own fault, and of your psychologists, that you didn't detect the potential in me..."

Vanunu's restrictions ban him from meeting foreign nationals, leaving the area in which he has chosen to reside, keeping at least 100 meters away from foreign embassies and an embargo on discussing his former work at the nuclear plant or the circumstances surrounding his kidnap from Rome and his subsequent trial in Israel.

His brother Asher told Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) that Mordehai has never expressed regret for any of his actions and as such, did not receive a reduction in his sentence. Asher stated that Mordehai would undoubtedly wage a legal battle against restrictions imposed upon him, adding that having served the last day of an 18-year term should permit him to leave the confines of prison life a totally free man, without any restrictions.

Security officials feel the classified information held by Vanunu pose a danger to state security, explaining the need for the restrictions. Asher also accused the media of "intentionally corrupting" the public against his brother, by publicizing one-sided stories in the case, adding the entire family stands firmly behind him.

Thousands Participate in March of the Living

By Ha'aretz and Reuters

Young Jews from around the world joined Holocaust survivors on Monday in a march at the former death camp of Auschwitz to mourn millions of Jews killed during World War II by Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. Some 7,000 people from Israel and more than 20 other countries marched some two miles from Auschwitz to the remains of crematoria at the nearby Birkenau camp on Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day.

The route is followed every year in the March of the Living by young Jews, Poles and elderly survivors to remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, including 1.5 million murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau's gas chambers. "I'm shaking, I'm really just shaking... I'm still afraid to go up and touch the barbed wire," said Eva Slonim, a survivor of notorious medical experiments at Auschwitz, who had traveled from Melbourne, Australia.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, in southern Poland, was the biggest death camp set up by Nazi German invaders during World War II on Hitler's order to exterminate Europe's Jewry. "We hope and pray that our children can perpetuate the lesson of the Holocaust, the message of understanding and tolerance," said Slonim as the marchers gathered at the Auschwitz camp gate, bearing the infamous German inscription "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work makes you free).

Organizers of the march increased security due to violence in the Middle East and a recent scare in Hungary over a plot to blow up a Jewish museum. Young Jews, many wrapped in Israeli flags, were visibly shaken by the sight of Auschwitz's gallows and spartan wooden camp buildings surrounded by barbed wire. About 500 Poles joined the march in a sign of growing reconciliation between Poland and the Jewish community. Polish-Jewish relations have long been strained, mainly due to post-war pogroms carried out by Polish extremists.

Poland's pre-1939 Jewish community of 3.5 million had been reduced to a mere 300,000 by 1945 when the war ended. Since then many have migrated to the United States and Israel. Poland's Jewish community currently has some 5,000-6,000 active members.

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