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Israeli Plan Focuses on Arafat's Eventual Death

By VOA News

An Israeli plan focusing on the eventual death of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat predicts chaos in the occupied territories and says Israel must prevent Palestinians from burying their leader in Jerusalem. The document, which has been leaked to news agencies, lays out Israeli predictions about Palestinian reaction to Arafat's death. It says he will die from natural causes, a prolonged illness or an Israeli military strike. The plan also says the Palestinian Authority is likely to collapse when Arafat dies, and says Islamic militant groups led by Hamas could try to take control of a post-Arafat government.

UN Chief Backs Envoy's Criticism of Arafat

By Kerry Sheridan (VOA-Cairo)

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed his support for the U.N.'s leading Middle East envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, who has been banned from entering Palestinian territory after he criticized Yasir Arafat in his monthly report to the Security Council.

The secretary-general released a statement affirming that Larsen spoke on behalf of the United Nations, just hours after the top aide to Arafat accused the envoy of making what he called "inaccurate and biased statements" and said Larsen is no longer welcome in Palestinian lands.

On Tuesday, Larsen told the Security Council that Arafat has taken no steps to end violence on the ground, and has ignored international calls to make needed changes to the Palestinian Authority, which he said is on the verge of collapse. Arafat's aide, Nabil Abu Rudeina, responded by saying Annan should "look into Mr. Larsen's behavior" and dispatch "neutral envoys."

Larsen was reporting to the Security Council about the status of the road map for peace in the Middle East backed by the so-called Middle East Quartet, made up of Russia, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations. U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe read Annan's statement, which said Larsen criticized both Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister to Begin Coalition Talks Sunday

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said formal negotiations aimed at creating a broad-based unity government are set to start on Sunday. Sharon has asked the main opposition Labor party, the small but influential ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism party and another religious party, Shas, to meet with him.

The formation of a new government could help secure parliamentary approval of the prime minister's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank next year.

Sharon has warned critics within his Likud Party that he could call early elections if they try to block the creation of a unity government and prevent implementation of his disengagement plan. The prime minister received Cabinet approval of his plan earlier this year but some ministers from right-wing factions resigned in protest. As a result, Sharon lost his parliamentary majority. There are even members of his own Likud Party who oppose the disengagement plan and are vowing to do everything in their power to keep it from being implemented.

Labor Party leader Shimon Peres told Israel Radio Wednesday that his party would insist on two things, disengagement from the Gaza Strip and what he termed social justice. Tuesday night Labor Party leaders gave its formal approval to Peres' plan to begin negotiations on joining the Sharon government. Peres said he was uncertain whether the talks would be successful.

Kerry's Brother Reassures Israel of Strong Support

By Reuters

The brother of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry met Israeli leaders on Wednesday in an apparent attempt to ease any concerns about the U.S. senator's commitment to the Jewish state. Some Israeli officials have fretted privately that a Kerry victory in November's election could lead to a shift away from Middle East policies of President George W. Bush, whom they see as more staunchly pro-Israel than any U.S. leader in decades.

A Jewish convert and adviser to his brother, Cameron Kerry was sent as a "surrogate" to reassure Israelis that the Democratic candidate was as strong a supporter as Bush, a source that helped arrange the trip said.

Kerry, who described his four-day trip as a "personal visit," met Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and opposition leader Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Wednesday. "My brother has been here many times and told me of his trips and has a very deep, personal connection to Israel," Kerry told reporters in Jerusalem. "I finally had the opportunity to make a visit and I jumped at the chance."

While campaigning for his party's nomination, Kerry angered Israel supporters last October when he told an Arab-American group the vast array of walls and fences being built through occupied land were a "barrier to peace." Kerry's campaign has since taken pains to stress his pro-Israel voting record in the Senate, and Israeli government analysts have concluded there is nothing to fear if he is elected to the White House.

But some Sharon aides worry that a change of U.S. administrations could jeopardize unprecedented commitments that Bush gave the prime minister in April to allow Israel to keep some West Bank land captured in the 1967 Middle East war. "There are concerns in the government that Kerry won't be as pro-Israel as Bush has been," a Sharon confidant said. The American Israel Education Fund, affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, sponsored the visit.

Nearly 450 Jews Arrive Home


"There is definitely an Aliyah momentum in the air." So said a project manager for Nefesh B'Nefesh Wednesday, as close to 450 Jews from North America arrived on the first of this summer's three Nefesh B'Nefesh flights at Ben Gurion Airport. Hundreds of well-wishers, media representatives, and public officials such as the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Absorption Minister, and the Chairman of the Jewish Agency greeted the new Israelis in a festive and often emotional welcoming ceremony.

Enhanced Absorption Ministry staff was on hand both on the plane and in the airport to expedite the new immigrants' paperwork. About half of the immigrants are singles, and the others are members of some 55 families. Most of them will live in Beit Shemesh, Modiin and Jerusalem. Some, such as Nachum and Peninah Eilberg and their four children, from Baltimore, will be moving into the Yesha town of Kokhav Yaakov - and brought along a Torah scroll that Nachum inherited from his grandparents.

Among the hundreds of people greeting the Jews on their first day in their old-new homes were several who arrived only last year on a similar Nefesh B'Nefesh flight. Edith Linden of Rehovot, originally from Oak Park, Mich., came to greet several good friends who followed in her family's footsteps - and expressed great admiration for those who had made the move. Asked to explain, with the benefit of a year's worth of hindsight, what brought her to Israel, Linden said, "It's where we belong - isn't that enough? But to be even more specific, it's the best place to bring up Jewish children."

Nefesh B'Nefesh provides the new immigrants with grants of up to $20,000 - depending on the size of the family and its economic status. It is funded by the Jewish Federations in North America, the Jewish Agency, and private donations. Olim who remain in Israel for at least three years need not return the grants.

The new immigrants were led from the plane, accompanied by soldiers who offered to carry their bags, as well as singing, cheering, and even shofar-blowing well-wishers, into a large hangar, equipped with several large fans working hard to offset the intense summer heat. One of the new immigrants, Nathan Gessner, speaking before he boarded the plane at JFK Airport in New York, said that his first act as an Israeli would be to assume a new Hebrew name: Natan Gesher. "I'm making Aliyah!" he declared with pride. "It feels like the weight of the world is being lifted off of me. I'm becoming a real person!"

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