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Queen of Sheba was First; Now Ethiopian PM will Visit Israel


Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, will arrive in Israel for an official three-day visit - the first ever of an Ethiopian head of state in a Jewish state since the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon. The visit will concentrate on the advancement of economic cooperation between the two countries, and the search for Israeli investors in Ethiopia. Ethiopia took Israel's position in the UN last year regarding Israel being put on trial in The Hague regarding the counter-terrorism partition fence.

Egypt Supports Israeli Withdrawal from Gaza

By & DEBKAfile

While efforts continue in the search for a compromise that will enable Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to back Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement/withdrawal plan, support for the plan is coming from other quarters: Egypt - and possibly Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

Sharon has spoken with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who offered his continuing aid in promoting the plan. It is no secret that Egypt stands to gain from the withdrawal, as its forces will be invited to Gaza to help train PA protective forces - contrary to the situation today in which Egyptian forces are restricted, under the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, from nearing Gaza.

Sharon and Mubarak agreed on the establishment of a joint committee to deal with the Israeli-Egyptian aspects of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon has tapped Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to travel to Egypt later this week to meet with Mubarak. The choice of Shalom raised some eyebrows, as Shalom was one of the 12 ministers comprising the majority against the plan last week.

Further evidence that Shalom may have changed his mind can be found in the fact that Prime Minister Sharon refuses to hear compromise suggestions to tone down his withdrawal plan - leading observers to surmise that he knows he already has a majority for his plan as it currently stands. Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, chief among the withdrawal's proponents is among those hinting that Shalom has been brought on board the disengagement boat.

Aides to Shalom asked why he was going to Egypt. He said that his purpose will be to facilitate the "warming up" of relations between the two countries, with no connection to the disengagement plan.

In related news, DEBKAfile reported that Yasir Arafat is hopping mad with Mubarak for trying to go behind his back and revive the Palestinian preventive security services of the Gaza Strip and West Bank under their former chiefs, respectively Muhammed Dahlan in the Gaza Strip and, with rather less authority on the West Bank, Jibril Rajib, Arafat's very own national security adviser.

This time round, Mubarak and his intelligence minister, General Omar Suleiman, want the two powerful services created under the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords to function under Cairo's control. The pair of Palestinian security men, at daggers drawn for years, have been ordered to present themselves in the Egyptian capital for a reconciliation and briefing. (Only recently, Jibril remarked, "Everyone knows Dahlan is an Israeli agent.")

Bedouin Majority Foreseen in Negev


Newly released statistics show that within 16 years, there may well be a Bedouin majority in the Negev. So reports "Ohr Mesimot," a movement for Jewish settlement in the Negev.

MK Uri Ariel (National Union) toured the Negev on Sunday with Ohr Mesimot representatives, and promised to help them procure government funding for their settlement activities. Roni Palmar of Ohr Mesimot says that the population in the Negev currently comprises 230,000 Jews and 160,000 Bedouin. The Jews thus already comprise less than 60% - and the proportion is dropping, as the Bedouin double their numbers every 15 years.

In the city of Rahat alone, Palmar told Ariel, 30 Bedouin babies are born each day. Rahat Mayor Talal Karnawi has said, "Since every day I have a new kindergarten born, in the end I will win."

Canada Closes Its Doors To Pro-Israel Advocate


A former PLO terrorist who is now pro-Israel was not allowed to enter Canada - but he spoke to his scheduled audience anyway, via live video link.

Walid Shoebat, formerly of a village near Bethlehem and now a resident of northern California, was scheduled to speak in Vancouver Monday against terrorism - but was turned away by Canadian immigration officials at a California airport. Organizers held the event anyway, arranging a live video link with the Italian Cultural Center in Vancouver. Reports varied - between 400 and 1,000 - as to how many people attended the event, but the crowd was said to be "elated" and "riveted," and frequently "enthusiastically applauded" Shoebat.

Gabriel Patrich, of the Israel Action Committee in Vancouver - one of three Jewish and Christian groups that organized the event - told the Vancouver Sun that he was "very disappointed" by Canada's refusal to admit Shoebat. "This is against free speech. We thought our government would do the right thing. We look at it as if they're taking sides."

The Sun reported that Canadian immigration spokeswoman Simone MacAndrew couldn't comment on the specifics of the case. Shoebat said that the airport officials "gave me some excuse that I have a background in terrorism." Shoebat has openly admitted his involvement in terrorist activities as a teenager, but now speaks out against terrorism in all forms.

Supreme Court Sends Conversion Hot Potato Back To Government


An 11-judge panel of the Supreme Court refrained from making a decision Monday on the issue of Reform and Conservative conversion ceremonies in Israel. Seventeen foreign workers and tourists who underwent such ceremonies had asked the Supreme Court to recognize them as Jews with full financial and social rights as immigrants to Israel. The Court affirmed that every Jew has the legal right to settle in Israel according to the Law of Return, even if he became a Jew while in Israel.

The high court ruled, however, that the decision on these 17 specific cases be left to the Interior Minister, who is currently Avraham Poraz of the ultra-secular Shinui party. The Minister, who is to provide his decision within 45 days, has already said that he will grant citizenship to the petitioners.

This decision stands in apparent contrast with Poraz's refusal to grant immigration rights to the Bnei Menashe community. The Bnei Menashe are an Indian group claiming descent from a lost tribe of Israel, and many of their number have converted to Judaism in Israel and conduct an Orthodox religious lifestyle. Poraz has announced that they may not receive immigration rights.

Gerer Wedding Stops Traffic in Jerusalem

By Ha'aretz

Masses of people thronged to Jerusalem Tuesday to attend the wedding of the Gerer rebbe's youngest son, in what Haredi and non-Haredi commentators alike declared an impressive show of strength by Rabbi Ya'akov Aryeh Alter and the sect he heads.

The area around Bar-Ilan Street was closed to traffic at 4 p.m. to accommodate the crowd, estimated at 50,000, causing serious traffic jams in the area. The ceremony itself took place on a rooftop, so that it would be easier for the people standing in the streets below to see.

People from across the ultra-Orthodox spectrum attended the wedding, with the guests coming not only from other Hasidic sects, but also from the non-Hasidic ("Lithuanian") branch of Haredi Judaism.

The Gerer sect has laid down strict rules against ostentatious weddings, so the affair more closely resembled an ordinary wedding than do marriages by many prominent members of other Hasidic sects. Moreover, since the Gerer rebbes - unlike those of other Hasidic sects - have traditionally married within the sect, the bride was also a Gerer Hasid. Nevertheless, the event was reminiscent in many ways of a royal wedding of old.

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