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Sharon Says Trench Plans Not Final

By VOA News

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Sunday, told his cabinet that plans to build a massive trench between the Gaza Strip and Egypt had not been finalized. Sharon said that Egypt's government would be consulted before the project moved forward.

On Thursday, Israel's defense ministry published newspaper notices seeking bids to build the four-kilometer-long, 80 foot-deep trench along the Philadelphi corridor between the Palestinian town of Rafah and Egypt. The trench would prevent Palestinians from digging tunnels to smuggle weapons into Gaza.

Rabin: 'All Right. But No Kissing'

By Israel Faxx News Service

During a "60 Minutes" interview, former President Bill Clinton recalled that just before the signing of the Oslo peace accords, that he had told Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that he would have to shake PLO chieftain Yasir Arafat's hand.

Rabin begrudgingly agreed, saying: "All right. But no kissing." So, Clinton said he and NSA adviser Tony Lake found themselves practicing at being Rabin and Arafat to figure out how to keep Rabin from receiving the traditional Arab greeting of a kiss on the cheek. They eventually found a way, leading to a historic handshake at the White House.

Report: Israel Operating Hundreds of Agents in Northern Iraq

By Ha'aretz

Israel operates hundreds of agents in the Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, according to a report published in the upcoming issue of The New Yorker magazine.

In an interview to CNN on Sunday, reporter Seymour Hersh said that hundreds of Israelis, some of them Mossad agents, are operating in the region in order to collect information on Iran's nuclear program and monitor events in Syria. According to the report, Israel in the past has had many ties with the Kurds, which with the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime are currently being renewed.

Israel is not confident of the success of the American program for the stabilization of the country, the report said, and that is why it is interested in setting up independent connections in the region. Israelis operating in the region are also attempting to assist Kurds living in Syria, the report stated.

Palestinian Authority, Armed Groups Prepare for Power-Sharing in Gaza

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

The Palestinian Authority is drawing up an agreement to share power in Gaza with armed factions, following an Israeli troop withdrawal from the territory. The plan is expected to be finalized at a meeting in Cairo next month with Egyptian government mediation.

In preparation for Israel's possible withdrawal from Gaza next year, the Palestinian Authority is attempting to reach a formula with armed factions on jointly running the territory. The Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, and other top Palestinian officials have confirmed this.

Qureia met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week to prepare for a meeting in Cairo next month involving representatives of the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian factions. The forum is meant to produce an agreement under which all groups, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, would formally participate in Palestinian government institutions.

Both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, and both have previously refused to join the Palestinian Authority. The groups do not support the interim peace accords signed with Israel that created the Palestinian Authority. In recent weeks, however, these organizations have indicated they want to participate in running Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal.

The emerging shifts in Palestinian politics are in response to the Israeli Cabinet's approval of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate troops and settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Deputy Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who supports the plan, said he empathizes with the feelings of Israeli settlers opposed to the decision. But he says the move is designed for the greater good of all the country's citizens.

"This is very sad but this is inevitable and unavoidable," he said. "And I absolutely understand their desperation, their sensitivity, their rage. It is entirely understood given the circumstances. I would not have acted differently had I been pushed out of my home. But the national interests overcome the individual sensitivities and the sense of injustice that some of them feel about it."

Under the disengagement plan, which is still to be approved by the parliament, Israel would evacuate all its settlements in the Gaza Strip by the end of next year.

Israel Moves to Expand Diplomatic Relations in Arab World

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel is planning to open an office in the United Arab Emirates for the first time, in the hope of establishing future official diplomatic ties. The move is part of efforts by Israel to improve its relations with the Arab world following the cabinet's approval of the disengagement plan from some Palestinian areas.

Israeli officials said they are holding talks with representatives of the United Arab Emirates on opening an office in Abu Dhabi. The Israeli office would not establish full diplomatic ties. Instead it would be a center similar to one already established in the Gulf State of Qatar that represents Israeli interests. Under the proposed move, Abu Dhabi would allow Israeli diplomats to operate from the center, but it would officially operate like a corporate office, not an embassy.

Israeli officials believe the time is right to establish such a presence because of the international goodwill they say has been generated by the preliminary approval of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. Under the plan, Israel would withdraw settlements and troops from the Gaza Strip by the end of next year. Four settlements in the West Bank would also be evacuated.

The cabinet approved the plan only after a crisis that nearly brought down Sharon's government. But further approvals are needed from the cabinet, and from the entire parliament, before the plan can be implemented. Israeli officials said that special envoys might also be dispatched soon to visit various Arab countries with messages from Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, explaining the disengagement plan in greater detail.

The messages would express the hope that Israel could upgrade its relations with the Arab countries, now that it has agreed to hand over more territory to Palestinian rule. Among the countries being considered for a visit by Israeli envoys are Qatar, Morocco, Bahrain, Tunisia and Oman. All of those countries have some ties with Israel, but not full diplomatic relations.

French Ex-Prime Minister Calls Balfour Declaration 'Historic Mistake'


A former French Prime Minister, and currently a leading member of the European Parliament, has called Great Britain's Balfour Declaration that paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel as a "historic mistake."

Michel Rocard, who is said to be in the running for president of the European Parliament for the coming two and a half years as part of a political deal, spoke about Israel in a lecture last week in Alexandria, Egypt. Israel is a "unique and abnormal condition because it was created with a promise, and [because] millions of Jews gathered from all around the world, creating an entity that continues to pose a threat to its neighbors until today."

The French government reported this month 180 incidents of attacks or threats against Jews or Jewish-owned property since the start of 2004. France, with just over 60 million people, has an estimated five million Muslims and 600,000 Jews - the largest numbers of both populations in Europe.

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