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Torah Thieves Apprehended

By IsraelNationalNews.com

An undercover detective posing as a synagogue representative "closed a deal" with Torah thieves on Rabbi Shach Street in Bnei Brak to purchase a Torah scroll believed to be stolen. The thieves, Bat Yam residents in their 50s, told their client the Torah was brought from Russia and they were selling it for half its worth, $25,000. After the deal was closed the two were taken into custody.

Three Wanted Palestinians Killed in Israeli West Bank Raid

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem) & IsraelNationalNews.com

Israeli troops shot and killed three wanted militants in a West Bank raid early Thursday in the third day of renewed clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli troops backed by tanks moved into the town of Tulkarem before dawn. The army said the troops fired on Palestinian gunmen who confronted them on the outskirts of the town.

Hospital sources identified the dead as members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades; an armed group linked to Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat's Fatah movement. Twenty members of the terror group were later forced to leave the Arafat headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The expulsions were ordered to try to keep Israel from invading the compound and arresting the men. The Associated Press quoted one of the militants as saying that Israeli security officials had issued a warning to their Palestinian counterparts that they would come after the militants.

At least seven Palestinians were killed Wednesday and 40 others wounded during clashes with Israeli forces in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia. The Israeli military said troops were searching for militants who have been firing rockets at Jewish settlements in Gaza and Israeli towns in the western Negev region. More than a dozen rockets were reported to have been fired over the past week, injuring seven Israelis. Tensions have increased dramatically in the aftermath of Israel's assassination of Abdel Aziz Rantissi, the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Jewish settlements from Gaza while maintaining them in the West Bank has also angered Palestinians, who have denounced the move as a land grab and an attempt to unilaterally impose the borders of an eventual Palestinian state.

Sharon defended his plan to pull out settlements from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank in a speech to the Israeli parliament Thursday. He called on lawmakers to join him and support his disengagement plan. As he put it, anyone who wants Israel to initiate and not be dragged, to lead and not be led should be behind his plan. Sharon will take his disengagement plan to his Likud party for its approval.

The plan has already won the support of President Bush. It had appeared to be favored by most Israelis until an opinion poll published in Ha'aretz on Thursday showed only 47 percent of Likud members in favor of it. The Sharon plan calls for the dismantling of all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank. Five large West Bank settlements, home to tens of thousands of Israelis, will be kept and expanded.

In a special session in the midst of the Knesset's Passover recess Thursday, Sharon delivered a diplomatic speech during which he said, "The referendum does not obligate any of the other parties. On the contrary, if the rest of the Knesset decides to vote against the position of the Likud, it is obvious that the Likud's position will not pass."

Since it is clear, in light of Labor's stated support for the plan, that it will pass in the Knesset, Sharon was openly signaling that he will make sure to pass the plan in the Knesset even if the Likud votes it down. However, this will be a problematic move for Sharon, as he will be acting against the will of his own party.

As if addressing his words to the 200,000 Likud members, Sharon warned, "Whoever continues to object to the disengagement plan, let it be clear to him that he is taking upon himself the responsibility of canceling all the American commitments... If the plan is not approved, the agreement [with the Americans] is no longer valid..."

Sharon continued to imply that the American commitments will guarantee Israel's future: "Whoever wants to prevent Israel from being flooded with [Arab] refugees; whoever wants to maintain large settlement blocs under our control forever; whoever wants to guarantee that for as long as the Palestinians don't act against terrorism, diplomatic pressures will not be exerted upon us... Whoever wants Israel to initiate and not be dragged; to lead and not be led - whoever wants all this, must support the disengagement plan."

"The diplomatic support we received during my visit to the U.S. is an unprecedented achievement. Never since the establishment of the State have we received such support with such strength and comprehension," said Sharon. "The Palestinians see the Bush letter as the strongest blow they have received since [our] War of Independence."

Sharon said that in the event of an Israeli-PA disagreement on any issue addressed by President Bush during the recent Bush-Sharon summit in Washington, "the U.S. will side with Israel. This is an unprecedented achievement... The Palestinians are beginning to understand [that] if they don't fulfill their obligations, Israel will continue to act on its own. Their current policy will only lead them to lose further assets and further cards in the final-stage negotiations."


Israeli Arab Abducted in Iraq Said Freed

By Ha'aretz and Reuters

His captors released an Israeli Arab taken hostage in Iraq two weeks ago and accused of spying for Israel Thursday, his U.S.-based employer said. Research Triangle International Vice President Sally Johnson said their employee, Nabil George Yaakob Razouk, was "safe and sound." Relatives of Razouk said Thursday that the North Carolina-based independent, nonprofit group had informed them of his release.

Razouk's mother, Samira, told Ha'aretz on Thursday that she hopes her son will stop working in Iraq, and thanked Yasir Arafat, whom the family had asked for help after finding out Nabil had been abducted. "He has already gone through enough," Samira Razouk said about her son Thursday. "He doesn't have to take more chances."

Razouk's sister Lena has said she appealed to Arafat to make clear to Iraqi officials that her brother is neither an Israeli agent nor an American one and that she wanted the PA "to protect him like a proud Palestinian." Razouk's father has said his son is not a member of any Palestinian organization.

Fadi Razouk, a cousin, told Channel Two that Nabil told him in a telephone conversation that he would probably arrive in Israel on Sunday and that he was feeling good. The television station reported that Razouk has been transferred from Najaf to Baghdad.

Razouk, a 30-year-old man from a prominent Coptic Christian family in East Jerusalem who was doing local governance work in Iraq, was taken hostage on April 8. Johnson did not have details about the release or how Razouk was treated, but said he appeared to be in good condition. Razouk was serving as operations manager in Najaf, Iraq, under a contract that RTI has with the United States Agency for International Development.


The Nation Cuts Ties to Holocaust Denial Group

By IsraelnationalNews.com

In response to a complaint by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, The Nation -- one of America's leading weekly magazines -- has adopted a new policy of refusing to accept paid advertisements from Holocaust-deniers.

Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff said: "The Nation deserves praise for its swift and decisive action to end its relationship with Holocaust-deniers. It has affirmed the principle that those who deny the Holocaust are fraudulent and hate-mongers, who should be treated as pariahs by civilized society."

The controversy began when an advertisement from a Holocaust-denying organization, the Institute for Historical Review (IHR), appeared in the latest issue of The Nation (dated May 3, 2004). The IHR ad promoted a new book that, it said, "dissects... the most sacred of Jewish-Zionist icons, the Holocaust story."

Dr. Rafael Medoff sent a letter to The Nation on April 21, 2004 protesting the publication of the IHR ad. He wrote, "Holocaust-deniers are not offering a legitimate alternative viewpoint. They are in the business of hate-mongering."

The Holocaust denial ad in The Nation "is especially troubling in view of The Nation's proud history as one of the few prominent American publications to speak out, during the Holocaust, for the rescue of Jews from Hitler... A business relationship with Holocaust-deniers today sullies that proud record," Medoff wrote.

In response, The Nation's advertising spokesman wrote back, saying, "There is a strong presumption against censoring any advertisement, especially if we disagree with its politics. This case, however, is different. Their arguments are 'patently fraudulent'. The magazine has requested the advertiser, The Institute for Historical Review, not run advertising in future issues."

The Wyman Institute, located on the campus of Gratz College (near Philadelphia), is a research and education institute focusing on America's response to the Holocaust.


Tel Aviv Cinematheque Wants to Show 'Passion of the Christ'

By Ha'aretz

The Cinematheque in Tel Aviv says it wants to show Mel Gibson's controversial film "The Passion of the Christ," Israel Radio reported Thursday. If the screening goes ahead, it would be the first Israeli screening of the film, which until now has not found any distributors in the country. The Cinematheque is in final negotiations with Gibson's production company for a one-time showing of the film in Israel, probably in a few months, cinema manager Alon Garbuz said.

Angry Jewish reaction to the film prompted the Vatican to reiterate its stance that Jews were not collectively responsible for Jesus' persecution. Gibson has denied he meant to portray Jews in a damaging light, saying he was only trying to portray the New Testament as it was written. Palestinians have applauded the film, saying it truthfully shows Jews as the culprit, and have compared the crucifixion to their suffering under Israeli occupation.

The cinematheque has received angry reactions to the decision, Garbuz said. "I think that those who think that the film is anti-Semitic shouldn't come see it. No one has the moral duty to decide for the public what they can see."

Jewish and Christian clergy will oversee a discussion with the audience after the viewing. Laura Kam Issacharoff, from the Israel office of the Anti-Defamation League, said that although the ADL was not enthusiastic about the screening it was not against it. She said that if the screening were to go ahead, "it is a good educational opportunity to show the Israeli public what anti-Semitism really is, and how Gibson has managed to turn the clock back to the Middle Ages."

Israel's censorship board could prevent the screening if it deems the movie is too anti-Semitic. But Garbuz said he has received word the board would not prevent the showing. Oscar winner Gibson, a practicing Catholic, was the primary financial backer of the film, assisted with the script and directed the film which contains graphic scenes of the last 12 hours of Christ's life.

The film has come under fire from Jewish groups for stirring anti-Semitism. Critics have also accused Gibson of distorting a Christian teaching. The movie has been a box-office smash in the U.S., grossing more than $360 million.


Walla to Launch Free E-mail Service

By Reuters

Israeli Web portal Walla plans to launch a free e-mail service that gives each user one gigabyte of memory, which it said could affect the revenue models of other service providers. Walla said it hoped to be the first company in the world to provide e-mail with such a large capacity, which could be a marketing coup when it makes the service available in two months.

The Walla announcement comes after Google Inc, the world's most popular Internet search engine, said it would soon launch a free e-mail service with one gigabyte of storage capacity, called Gmail. "We are hoping to be ahead of Google," a Walla official said.

Walla gave no details about investment in the project. It said the expanded e-mail boxes would not generate revenue primarily through advertising. "This goes against today's prevailing trend whereby companies seek to increase their average revenues per user through value-added services to end-users," the statement said.

Its service will also include anti-spam and anti-virus protection, Walla said. One gigabyte of memory is more than 100 times that offered by established rivals Yahoo Mail and Microsoft's MSN Hotmail. Walla said it had a customer base of 750,000 users. Its 2003 revenues reached NIS 33 million ($7.2 million), up 43 percent from the previous year. Gross profit in 2003 totaled NIS 19 million, up 116 percent from the previous year, it said.

Google's Gmail came under fire on Monday when an international privacy rights group said it would violate privacy laws across Europe and elsewhere. The group objected to Google's plan to automatically scan Gmail for keywords to use in sending targeted advertisements to consumers and to keep copies of e-mails after users deleted them.


Israir Passenger Detained for Questioning

By Ha'aretz

A passenger on an Israir flight from Eilat to Tel Aviv was detained for questioning on Thursday evening after arousing the suspicion of the air marshal on the flight. The air marshal overtook and bound the passenger when the man approached the cockpit as the plane was ascending, a stage during which passengers are not permitted to leave their seats.

The plane took of from Eilat at 9 p.m. and landed in Sde Dov, in northern Tel Aviv, at 9:30. There were 19 passengers on board the plane. Security sources told Ha'aretz that the air marshal said that the passenger appeared suspicious because he was making his way swiftly to the cockpit.

The passenger, who was transferred to Shin Bet security service and police investigators upon landing at Sde Dov, said that he had no intentions of ill will, and that he had simply requested to switch seats. The passenger was unarmed.

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