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Fatah Develops a Longer Range Rocket


The al-Aqsa Brigade of Yasir Arafat's Fatah organization has announced the development of a longer-range surface-to-surface rocket to be used in attacks against Israelis. According to the report, the rocket has a range of 34 miles. The new rocket has been named "Eagle Eye" by the terror organization. According to correspondent Haggai Huberman, the "Shahidim Brigade" based in Jenin boasts the new rocket.

Analysts: Israel's Targeting of Hamas Leaders Increases Public Support for Group

By Kerry Sheridan (VOA-Cairo)

The terrorist Palestinian group Hamas has lost two of its senior leaders in less than a month. Israel says the militant group has been crippled, but Hamas spokesmen have vowed revenge, and say the group is stronger than ever. Meanwhile, there are indications Hamas wants to broaden its targets, at least rhetorically. Arab analysts in the Middle East say that what Hamas lacks in leadership, it is making up for with increasing public support.

After the assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Hamas pledged to retaliate and unleash a volcano of revenge. The militant group made similar threats after Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was killed by an Israeli air strike last month. But no significant attacks followed either threat, leading some to believe Israel might have succeeded in reducing Hamas' ability to launch terror operations.

Israel says the Hamas leaders were directly involved in planning and funding terrorist operations. It says anyone who does that is a legitimate target, and it has pledged to continue killing militant leaders whenever it can. Israel says the killings are more than symbolic, that they have a direct impact on Hamas' ability to carry out terrorist attacks. Indeed, the head of Israeli military intelligence said the killings left Hamas in a total state of shock.

But analyst Sami Baroudi, professor of political science at American University in Lebanon, says the Israeli assassination policy is resulting in more and more popular support for radical Islamism among Palestinians. "The more they kill of the leaders, the more support there will be for the movement, and the less support there will be for the more basically secular leadership." Baroudi says the assassinations had little impact on Hamas' ability to carry out the kind of suicide attacks that made it famous. He says those attacks are organized by operational cells, not by the senior political leadership.

"Mainly they represent a political wing of the movement. They are basically the ideologues of the movement really, they are the ones on television," Baroudi said. "I don't think they are the ones who are basically operating on the ground. I don't think people like Yassin or Rantissi are really involved in the preparing of suicide bombers. They are more symbolic leaders."

Analysts say they cannot predict whether growing support for Hamas will translate to increasing numbers of suicide bombings. Meanwhile, Hamas is calling on Islamic groups to attack American targets.

The top Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Syria, was quick to enlarge the battlefield between Palestinians and Israelis, saying their fight now involves not just the regional conflict, but what he sees as the bigger ideological clash between the Arab world and the United States.

Speaking from Lebanon, Hamas spokesman Osama Hemdan said the group does not plan to change its policy of targeting only Israel in its own operations. But he says Hamas leaders hope that others will act against U.S. targets on behalf of Hamas and the Palestinian cause.

"Now I believe there is a huge situation which generated hatred and anger against the United States," he said. "And now I believe some of the people in the Arab world and Islamic world will take the responsibility of defending Hamas and the Palestinians against the Americans, and that will generate a situation against Americans also in the region, which will be helpful for the Palestinians against Israel."

Hamas has vowed to continue its fight to destroy Israel and create an Islam-based Palestinian state. The only change for now, the group says, is that it will try to keep secret the identities of its leaders, in an effort to shield them from Israeli assassination attempts.

10 Palestinians Killed as Israeli Forces Raid Gaza Town

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem) & Ha'aretz

Ten Palestinians, five of them armed militants, were reportedly killed and at least 40 were wounded as Israeli tanks and infantry forces backed by helicopter gunships raided the towns of Beit Lahia and Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

The 10 were killed in gunfights with Israel Defense Forces troops. Armored vehicles and Givati Brigade soldiers took over key positions throughout the town during the operation that began before dawn Wednesday. "Everyone we hit was either armed or planting bombs," an IDF spokesman said.

Palestinian witnesses said some 25 tanks rolled into Beit Lahia before dawn as Israeli troops began a house-to-house search for homemade rockets. The operation was conducted in a housing project built for Palestinian security officers. It was the second incursion in Gaza in as many days.

The Israeli incursions follow a series of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli settlements in Gaza and Israeli towns in the western Negev region. Militants are reported to have fired some 15 rockets at Israeli targets this week, wounding at least seven Israelis.

Meanwhile, a report in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz says Israel is considering closing the industrial zone located at the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The newspaper quotes unnamed senior Israeli military officers as saying the area is too hard to secure.

One security officer was killed and three others were injured in a suicide bombing at the crossing last Saturday. Five other Israeli security officers have been killed in suicide bombings in the same location since January. Ha'aretz quoted the officer as saying that Israel may have no choice but to close the industrial zone despite the damage that such a move would do to the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians.

The Erez industrial zone employs some 4,000 Palestinians. It is one of the few places where thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis can be found together. It has also been relatively easy for Palestinian suicide bombers to penetrate the crowds that gather daily to cross into Israel from Gaza.

Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon said during a visit to Erez on Tuesday that the industrial zone, which was closed following the bombing last weekend, will not be allowed to reopen until suitable procedures are in place to protect the soldiers.

U.S. Eases Visa Restrictions on Israelis Born in Arab States

By Ha'aretz

U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, announced on Wednesday that the U.S. was easing restrictions on issuing travel visas to Israelis born in Arab countries. "Following two years of efforts, we are glad to announce a dramatic easing of restrictions on Israelis traveling to the U.S."

Kurtzer said that since most Israelis born in Arab countries considered as terror-supporting states don't have any real link to their birthplace, their applications would be treated like any other request by an Israeli citizen. If it is determined that all connections have been cut and the visa applicant is considered loyal to "Israel only," their application will be more quickly authorized and their visa will be issued at the American mission in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Israel complained that the visa applications of many of its citizens were delayed, even though they had no connections with their countries of birth. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the administration decided to make more stringent the criterion for visa applicants born in Arab states. All requests by such individuals were transferred to Washington and would not be dealt with by local American missions. This caused extensive delays in applications.

The American Consul in Tel Aviv said that demand for U.S. visas in Israel was the highest in the Middle East and one of the highest in the world. "We've tried for a long time to convince the State Department that the restrictions put in place after 9/11...should not apply to Israelis," he said.

The consul said he wanted to warn against the phenomenon of Israelis who violate the conditions of their visas by extending their stay beyond what the visa permits them. "These citizens would face problems at airports upon wishing to leave the U.S., and may not be permitted to return to the states for a period of up to 10 years. We are glad that Israelis are feeling at home in the U.S., but we ask that the laws be respected.

Film Director Severely Beaten by Security Guards at Defense Ministry HQ

By Ha'aretz

Film director David Ben-Sheetrit was beaten and badly wounded Wednesday morning by security guards at the Kirya defense headquarters in Tel Aviv while on his way to a meeting with Israel Defense Forces Spokeswoman Ruth Yaron. Ben-Sheetrit was admitted to nearby Ichilov Hospital with broken legs and severe blows to his body.

He was set to meet with Yaron in connection with a movie he was directing about the Lebanon war and the refusal of soldiers to serve. According to Ben-Sheetrit, he was attacked by four security guards after he was asked to present his identification card, which he was unable to find. He said the guards continued beating him and even handcuffed him even after he told them he had a meeting with Yaron and even though one of her assistants arrived on the scene.

The Forum of Documentary Filmmakers condemned the attack on Ben-Sheetrit and said it "furiously protests the racist treatment of this Israeli documentary filmmaker of Moroccan background who did nothing to justify the brutal attack." The Defense Ministry has not yet issued a response to the incident.

Vanunu Re-Ignites Stormy Debate over Exposure of Israeli Nuclear Secrets

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

The man who revealed many of Israel's nuclear secrets 18 years ago, Mordechai Vanunu, walked out of prison Wednesday and re-ignited a storm of debate over his actions. The former technician at Israel's secret nuclear site spent 18 years in jail for treason. Many in the international community welcomed his expose', but to most of his fellow Israelis he remains a traitor.

Crowds of supporters and detractors gathered Wednesday to see Vanunu walk free from Israel's Ashkelon prison, south of Tel Aviv. And he was defiant. "You did not succeed to break me. You did not succeed to make me crazy. I am proud and happy to do what I did," Vanunu said.

The international attention given to the event was in marked contrast to Vanunu's humble beginnings. He is the second eldest of 11 children of Moroccan Jewish parents, who immigrated to Israel in 1963. Within a few years, his father had become a respected rabbi in Be'er Sheva in southern Israel.

Vanunu chose a different path, studying physics at university before he found work as a technician at Israel's Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert. When he began his employment, Vanunu signed a pledge of secrecy. But when he quit his job, he smuggled out two rolls of film he had taken during his nine years inside the facility. He took the film with him when he moved to Australia.

The British newspaper the Sunday Times found out about Vanunu and his film, and flew him to London. His photographs of Dimona and information he provided to the newspaper formed the basis of an article published in 1986 that led experts to conclude Israel possessed a stockpile of up to 200 atomic bombs. Vanunu's decision to talk to the newspaper triggered an operation by Israel's intelligence agency Mossad to lure him to Rome, where he was kidnapped and taken back to Israel.

In his home country, he was convicted of treason and sent to jail for 18 years. During his incarceration, Vanunu won many foreign supporters, who applauded him for exposing Israel's secret nuclear weapons program. They include British actress Susannah York, who was among the celebrities outside the prison Wednesday to greet him upon his release.

But while he may be lauded by some foreigners as a hero, in his home country Vanunu is seen mainly as a villain who continues to pose a threat to Israel's security. The Israeli government said this week that Vanunu still has more to tell and intends to do so. As a result, the government set restrictions on his movements after his release. They include banning Vanunu from traveling abroad for one year, and from talking to foreigners without permission.

An adviser to the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, Uzi Arad, says without limitations Vanunu would continue to expose Israel's secrets. "You have to restrain him from doing that. Well, we found the balance which protect most of his [civil] liberties and still curtail that potential for causing further damage."

Vanunu intends to appeal against his restrictions. He says he wants leave Israel and start a new life in the United States. Vanunu appears to care little for the opinions of his fellow countrymen. At his news conference, he spoke in English and refused to answer questions in Hebrew. He claims that he has become an even greater outcast because of his conversion to Christianity.

Wearing a gold crucifix, he traveled to a church in Jerusalem, where he prayed and gave thanks for having been given the strength to endure during his long years in jail. Before entering the sanctuary, he was greeted by Peter Hounam, the British journalist who wrote the article for the Sunday Times. Hounam began crying as the two men hugged one another among the bustling throngs of reporters and well wishers.

'Lost Tribe' Gets a New Jewish Educational Center in India


The city of Imphal, capital of the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, is now home to a new Jewish educational center geared to the needs of the local community of Bnei Menashe, a group claiming descent from a lost tribe of Israel.

The center, which will offer daily classes in Hebrew language, Jewish history and tradition, is slated to open this week under the auspices of the Jerusalem-based Amishav organization. Amishav reaches out to and assists lost Jews, including Anusim (Marranos) of Spanish and Portuguese descent, seeking to return to the Jewish people. The organization recently dispatched a young couple from Israel, Chaim Yaish and his wife Zamira, herself a member of the Bnei Menashe, to open and teach in the new center. Yaish has previously done outreach work in India on behalf of several Israeli organizations.

"Our goal in opening the Amishav Hebrew Center in Imphal," said Amishav Director Michael Freund, "is to help the Bnei Menashe to deepen their knowledge of Jewish practice and belief, as well as to prepare them for life in Israel, as they all wish to make aliyah [immigration to Israel]. There are at least 4,000 Bnei Menashe living in the state of Manipur alone, and we must reach out to them and restore them to our people." Eighteen months ago, Amishav opened a similar center in the neighboring Indian state of Mizoram, where over 350 Bnei Menashe now study daily.

The Bnei Menashe, who number more than 6,000 people, believe they are descendants of the tribe of Menashe, one of the 10 Lost Tribes exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrians over 2,700 years ago. Some 800 members of the community have arrived over the past decade in Israel, where they have all undergone a formal return to Judaism via conversion by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Since June of last year, however, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz (Shinui) has refused to allow additional members of the Bnei Menashe to make aliyah, reportedly because they live an observant Jewish lifestyle and are welcomed almost exclusively in Yesha communities.

Freund, however, remains undeterred, and says he will press on with his efforts to bring the Bnei Menashe back to Israel. "Ministers come and ministers go," he said, "but the ingathering of the exiles will continue."

Israeli Technology Powers World's Libraries


The academic libraries in many top American universities and colleges are powered by Israeli technology, Israel21c reported. The "Aleph" system developed by the Israeli company Ex Libris is also used in national banking institutions around the world.

Aleph permits libraries to order and receive stock, set up and control budgets, catalogue and display books, maintain an inventory, conduct searches, locate books and manage circulation. Libraries currently equipped with the Aleph system include Harvard University, the University of California, the British Library, the China National Library and the Historical Department of the French Army, which selected the Aleph 500 integrated system for its scientific library. The banking version of Aleph is used by the European Central Bank, Banca d`Italia, the National Bank of Belgium, the Central Bank of Iceland, and others.

The development of Ex Libris' prized system began back in 1980 when a team of librarians, systems analysts and computer programmers in Hebrew University of Jerusalem set out to create an automated library system for the university that would be efficient, user-friendly and multilingual. The result was Aleph, which stands for Automated Library Expandable Program. Following implementation in most of Israel's universities, veteran Israeli software expert Azriel Morag was hired to translate the concept into a commercial reality. Today Ex Libris has grown into a multinational company and a world leader in library and information management systems, with its language-customized systems used by more than 3,000,000 people at about 1,300 sites in 50 countries on 6 continents in 20 interface languages.

Ex Libris is privately-owned, though the Hebrew University is the single largest shareholder. Much of the continuing development work is still conducted in Israel, where about 100 staff members - including the original Hebrew University team - work on development and support, marketing and sales.

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