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Kerry Sends a Message to Israel


Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, released a statement Monday night that if elected, his administration would never pressure Israel to make concessions that would compromise her security. Kerry added he would not compel Israel to negotiate with a partner that she does not trust to advance peace efforts.

Sharon Consults With Cabinet on Defeated Disengagement Plan

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has begun consultations with his cabinet to find a way forward after members of his right-wing Likud party resoundingly defeated his disengagement plan. Sharon met with Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to try to shore up support for disengagement.

During a meeting with Likud lawmakers, Mr. Sharon reminded them of their duty as elected officials. "The people of Israel chose us to find a way to bring quiet, peace and security and to improve the economy" he said, adding - "I intend to do that. There is no other reason for us to be here in the Knesset."

Sharon had said that his disengagement plan was the best way forward to make Israel more secure, in light of the lack of real prospects for peace with the Palestinians. His plan calls for dismantling all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and several small ones in the West Bank.

But Sunday, Likud members handed Sharon a resounding defeat by turning down his disengagement plan by a 60 to 40-percent margin. The prime minister had warned that a vote against the plan was a vote against him. Nevertheless, he said after the results were announced that he has no intention of resigning.

The White House issued a statement saying its position has not changed as a result of the referendum and that President Bush welcomes Prime Minister Sharon's plan. The statement called it a courageous and important step toward peace. It said the White House would be in consultation with the prime minister and the government of Israel about how to move forward.

During a visit to Washington last month, Sharon received Bush's support for the plan. But Jewish settlers and right-wing groups were vehemently opposed and mounted an effective grassroots campaign against it. The Likud defeat was certainly a humiliation for Sharon, but opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis supports disengagement and that may give the prime minister more room to maneuver.

His advisers also point out that even within Likud the results of the vote may not really indicate how the rank-and-file feel, since just more than half the eligible voters cast ballots. Sharon could call a national referendum on the plan, but that would take time to organize. Supporters say he will likely modify his original plan and then put it to his cabinet and the parliament before moving ahead.

Arab World Expresses Mixed Reaction to Likud Rejection of Sharon's Plan

By Greg LaMotte (VOA-Cairo)

There are diverse reactions from the Arab world following Sunday's Likud Party vote in Israel rejecting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip. Arab reaction to the Likud Party vote ranges from only mild interest to fears of renewed violence in the Palestinian territories.

In Jordan, the head of the al-Quds Center for Political Studies, Uraib el-Rantawi, says the defeat of Sharon's plan, to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, may lead to increased confrontations.

"I think that the feeling among the public opinion here in Jordan is that Israel is not serious about the whole peace process," said el-Rantawi. "And, for many Jordanians I think the forthcoming scenarios in Palestine is the worst. People do believe a new era of clashes, of confrontation, of violence will be launched in the occupied territories."

In Lebanon, the head of the political science department at the Lebanese-American University, Sami Baroudi, says many Lebanese do not consider the Likud party vote counts for much. "I do not think people really think that the plan, from the beginning, was really serious. I think, basically, for people here, they are more focused on what is going on in Gaza, on those things. So these matters, while very important, I do not think the people are really giving much attention to the vote within the Likud."

But Arab affairs expert and former Egyptian diplomat Abdullah el-Ashaal sees things differently. He thinks Arabs in general are cheered by the Sunday vote because it strengthens the case for a negotiated settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I think in the Arab world they look at the voting in the Likud party as a victory, that Sharon should not be supported and a negotiated settlement is the only solution for the problem," said el-Ashaal.

Senior Arab officials have are opposed to any unilateral action by Israel. They say they do not think Sunday's vote will prevent the Israeli prime minister from going ahead with his plan to remove most troops and 21 Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip.

What Did the CNN Crew Do at Kissufim?


Yisrael Medad, former director of Israel's Media Watch, reported that a source from the Gush Katif Regional Council called him and explained the heroism of CNN's Mike Schwartz, the producer for the CNN crew in Israel: "He saved Jewish lives today," the source explained.

As the events were described to Medad: "Two convoy cars of CNN were traveling behind Tali Hatuel's car when the terrorists continued to fire at every direction and at every car. Schwartz of CNN decided to block the crossing of more cars into the crossfire of the terrorists with his CNN bulletproof car along with his camera crew who were on their way to Gush Katif to cover the referendum results. Ten cars of other citizens of Gush Katif who were returning from precinct watches were 'stopped' by Mike Schwartz and his CNN crew cars."

The pregnant young mother Tali Hatuel and her four daughters - Hila, Hadar, Roni and Meirav - were buried in the new Ashkelon cemetery late Sunday afternoon, in a funeral attended by thousands of grieving mourners. Their husband and father David, who said he has not yet fully absorbed what has happened to him, eulogized them at the gravesite, crying out, "I beg forgiveness for not giving you enough time." David is the principal of an elementary school in Ashkelon. He noted that his wife was pregnant with a boy, for whose birth the family had been joyfully preparing - "and now everything has been cut off."

Israel Sweeps European Basketball Title


On Saturday night, Maccabi Tel Aviv crushed Italy's Skipper Bologna 118:74 to become Euroleague basketball champions for the fourth time. With the impressive win in the Euroleague Final Four, two Israeli teams now hold leading European basketball league titles simultaneously. Hapoel Jerusalem won the Euroleague B (ULEB) cup in Belgium on April 13.

The final result of the game in the Nokia Stadium in Tel Aviv was nearly a foregone conclusion right from the start. As Bologna coach Jasmin Repesa later admitted, "The game was over in the first quarter." The 120,000 basketball fans that crowded both the stadium and the Yehoshua (Yarkon) Park in Tel Aviv, where the game was broadcast live on a giant screen, were positively certain of victory long before the Israelis rushed to a 10-point lead in under six minutes.

Shooting guard Anthony Parker, who played with the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers from 1997-1999, was named Final Four MVP with 21 points. But in a unique moment, just before raising the Euroleague trophy aloft, team captain Gur Shelef called teammate Derrick Sharp to the microphone with him and said, "Be like Derek. We all should take an example from him."

Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem will face each other Thursday in a battle for the national title.

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