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Israel's Memorial Day Leads to Independence Day


Monday is Israel's Memorial Day. The main state ceremony will take place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. At 11 a.m., a two-minute siren will sound, marking the start of memorial services in military cemeteries around the country. The central ceremony will be held in Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl. At 1 p.m. a state ceremony will be held for victims of terror attacks - a relatively new feature of official Memorial Day commemorations. And at 8 p.m. torches will be lit at Mt. Herzl, marking the conclusion of Memorial Day and the beginning of Israel's 56th Independence Day.

Israel's Deputy PM: 'No Imminent Plans to Kill Arafat'

By Ross Dunn & Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's deputy premier, Ehud Olmert, says there are no imminent plans to assassinate Yasir Arafat, despite Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's latest threats against the Palestinian chieftain. Sharon's comments have drawn a sharp reaction from the U.S. administration, which says Israel must not harm the Palestinian leader.

Olmert insists Sharon is not about to give the order to have Arafat killed. The deputy premier said Sharon was simply setting out a principle, that Arafat, who Israel blames for orchestrating violent attacks, has no guarantees of immunity.

Olmert says that the intention is to put fear into the Palestinian leader, to discourage him from supporting more terrorism. He was reacting to the storm of controversy following Sharon's comments on Friday that he had told President Bush, during their summit earlier this month, that Israel is no longer bound to a commitment not to harm Arafat.

In response, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington strictly opposes any threat to Arafat and that Bush had made this clear in his talks with Sharon at the White House.

Arafat told supporters at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday that he was not afraid of Sharon's threats and was ready, as he put it, to embrace martyrdom.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said he firmly believes Arafat should be removed from the political scene. But Israel's justice minister, Tommy Lapid, countered that, in fact, no decision has been made by Israel to kill Arafat. Lapid said it had been agreed months ago by government ministers that such a decision would have to go before the inner security cabinet and that no meeting to discuss the matter had ever been convened.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has called on the international community to protect Arafat. In a statement carried Saturday by the Palestinian news agency Wafa, Qureia asked the United Nations Security Council and the international community to come together to, "Stop Ariel Sharon from harming President Arafat." The statement warned, "Any such act of folly can only take the region into the abyss and bring about the definitive collapse of peace efforts."

Israel accuses Arafat of supporting Palestinian militants, who have killed more than 900 Israelis during three and a half years of fighting. In September, Israel's cabinet decided Arafat should be "removed" but did not specify whether that meant he should be expelled or assassinated. Last month, Israel's army chief, Moshe Yaalon suggested Arafat could be targeted.

Israel Seeks US Nod for El Al Anti-Missile System

By Reuters,

Israel will seek U.S. approval to let national carrier El Al Israel Airlines land planes at U.S. airports equipped with a new anti-missile defense system, the Transportation Ministry said on Sunday.

Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman is currently in the United States, where he is slated to discuss the issue with U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta on Monday, a spokesman for Lieberman said. Lieberman "will speak with (Mineta) about Flight Guard," the spokesman said. "That's why he is there." The spokesman declined to elaborate.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority refuses to allow civilian planes to be equipped with the flare-based system due to the safety risks. Last Thursday, the ministry said Israel was fitting El Al aircraft with an anti-missile system called Flight Guard amid growing airline fears of global terrorism. El Al's first missile-protected plane should take off in June and it has plans to install Flight Guard on all passenger planes.

Ha'aretz on Sunday said the U.S. would not normally permit planes with foreign defense systems to land at its airports. Israel stepped up efforts to adapt military anti-missile systems for its civilian aircraft after an Israeli charter came under attack from shoulder-held missiles in Kenya in 2002. The missiles, fired by al-Qaeda-linked attackers, missed.

The Flight Guard system automatically releases diversionary flares if an on-board sensor detects a heat-seeking missile. The ministry said an El Al passenger jet was being fitted with Flight Guard, which automatically releases diversionary flares if a heat-seeking missile is detected by an on-board sensor.

El Al is already regarded as the world's most security-conscious airline due to its stringent anti-hijacking precautions -- such as armed guards on all flights and very close pre-flight checks on passenger lists.

Aviation industry analysts said fitting military equipment to civilian planes would pose cost problems for many airlines, since such systems must be constantly serviced and make planes less aerodynamic -- which harms fuel consumption. "There are a lot of expectations that cannot be met," said Goldman Sachs aerospace analyst Sash Tusa, referring to the feasibility of airlines embracing such technology.

Analysts said the likelihood of a shoulder-fired missile actually downing a civilian aircraft was remote, noting such aircraft are built to withstand the loss of an engine.

Israel to Extend Press Cards of PA Journalists


In accordance to a Supreme Court decision, the Government Press Office will extend the validity of press cards issued to PA residents who are members of the working press providing they pass a security check.

The Reuters news agency filed a petition to the High Court along with the al-Jazeera satellite news agency after the GPO refused to renew cards to members of their staff.

The High Court ruled a blanket policy of refusal to renew press credentials was discriminatory and therefore unacceptable. The court stated that each individual must pass the required security clearance and then issued a card.

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