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Tourists Flock to Israel


Tourism to Israel continues to rise. From January to June of this year, close to 674,000 tourists visited the country - a whopping jump of 66% over the same period last year. While almost 85% of these arrived by air to Ben Gurion International Airport, another 25,800 arrived by air directly to the southern resort city of Eilat - more than twice as many as during the same period last year. Similarly, the 74,700 who arrived by land also doubled themselves. The month of June was particularly blessed for Israeli tourism, with the entry of 121,600 tourists - 37% more than in June 2003.

Human Chain Stretches 56 miles to Protest Sharon's Disengagement Plan

By VOA News &

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon faces more challenges to his plan to form a new government and push through his disengagement plan from Palestinian areas as Jewish settlers Sunday formed a human chain from Gaza to Jerusalem to protest the plan. Thousands of Israelis came out in force to rally public support against Sharon's plan to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank by the end of next year.

Between 130,000, according to the police, and 200,00, reported by Israel Channel 2 Television turned out to form the human chain between Jewish settlements in southern Gaza and Jerusalem to symbolize that Gaza is connected to Israel and should not be abandoned. Among those who took part were the speaker of the Israeli parliament, Reuven Rivlin, a member of Sharon's Likud Party, and more than two dozen other members of parliament from various right-wing factions.

They linked arms to form a 56-mile continuous human chain from the northern Gaza community of Nisanit to the Kotel - the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site. The chain was the third largest such event in world political history.

The public show of opposition came as the prime minister attempted to forge a new national unity government to ensure the parliamentary approval of his disengagement plan. Sharon's Cabinet endorsed the plan earlier this year, but some ministers resigned in protest, and the prime minister lost his parliamentary majority. Despite opposition from within his own party, Sharon wants to rebuild his coalition with the participation of the Labor Party, which supports his plan.

"Nothing can break this chain because it is reinforced with the faith and unity of the Nation of Israel," marveled Al Nachom, a participant who came all the way from California together with tens of others to take part in the 'human chain' stretching from Gush Katif to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

At 6:45 p.m. the thousands of participants clasped one another's hands and prepared for the singing of 'Hatikva' - 'The Hope', Israel's national anthem. And at 7 p.m., ram's horns were blown at some points in the chain and the words of Hatikva echoed across the country.

On one end of the chain were Yitzchak and Shlomit Shamir, residents of the original pre-state Kfar Darom community in the 1940's - a reminder that Jewish settlement in Gaza began long before the liberation of Judea, Samaria and Gaza in 1967. The Shamirs' granddaughter, 6-year-old Yael Better, who is now a resident of N'vei Dekalim, completed the chain - slipping a note into Western Wall on which was written a prayer asking the Creator to nullify the decree of expulsion of Jews from their homes in the Land of Israel.

Also at the Kotel were bereaved father and husband David Hatuel, whose pregnant wife and four daughters were murdered in their car in Gush Katif the day of the Likud referendum a few months ago. Hatuel told reporters that he was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event. "Sadly, I came alone," said Hatuel, "but the connection I felt from everyone here on erev Tisha B'Av (the 9th of the Jewish month of Av, a fast day mourning the destruction of the Temple -ed.] is quite amazing. This will broadcast to everyone that we have the will to continue to pursue our lives in all parts of the land of Israel."

INN correspondent Ezra HaLevi stood beside the Old City in Jerusalem, at Kikar Tzahal - IDF Square - and described the scene on Israel National Radio's live broadcast of the event: "I'm looking at more than a single-file human chain here," said HaLevi, "there are enough people here to make 10 parallel chains. The atmosphere is one of exuberance. Everybody I talk too is just overjoyed that there are others - thousands of others - who, like them, refuse to believe that a retreat from Gush Katif is 'inevitable' or 'a done deal.' Every person I interview has the same underlying message: 'The Nation of Israel is proud and strong and willing to stand up for what is good and right despite the weakness of our elected leadership.'"

Israeli Minister Warns Jewish Extremists Planning Terror Attack on Jerusalem Mosque

By VOA News, & Ha'aretz

Israel's Security Minister has warned that right-wing Jews are intending to attack the Temple Mount, the most religiously sensitive site in the Middle East. The area is home to Islam's third holiest shrine and observers fear any harm to the area could provoke a new war in the region.

Internal Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said that there is a growing desire among Jewish extremist groups to launch a terror attack on the Temple Mount. He said the aim of such an attack would be to stop plans by the government to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four more in the West Bank by September next year. Observers said that any politically motivated destruction of the shrine could have even more far reaching consequences, bringing the wrath of the entire Muslim world down upon Israel.

The Temple Mount is located in Jerusalem's walled Old City. It was the site of the Jewish Temples in biblical times making it the holiest place in the Jewish world. For centuries it has also been the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosques, and is regarded as the third most sacred shrine in the Islamic world, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Hanegbi's warning that the site may come under attack follows warnings from the head of Israel's secret police who claimed up to 200 right wing Jews wanted to see the Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon killed. Shin Bet chief, Avi Dichter, said that most of these individuals live in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Mr. Sharon has slated for evacuation. The warnings have prompted calls by Israeli lawmakers for police to immediately arrest and interrogate Jewish extremists suspected of planning terror attacks.

The PA-appointed Jerusalem Mufti, Sheik Akram Sabri used the warning issued by Hanegbi to warn Muslims that Israel would use the threats of an attack to launch an incursion onto the Mount and troops will position themselves in areas that are deemed offensive by the Muslim Wakf Authority. PA Minister Kadur Affaris added to Sabri's statements, and called on the international community to "eliminate the threat" and act before Israel violates the Mount.

Likud Knesset member Ehud Yatom, who as a former Shin Bet official was one of the commanders of the operation to seize the members of the "Jewish Underground" terror group, said Sunday that the group was "very close" to carrying out a planned multiple bombing against Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount in 1984. Yatom was also responding to Hanegbi's statement.

Security sources have said possible actions included an attempt to crash a drone packed with explosives on the Temple Mount, or a manned suicide attack with a light aircraft during mass Muslim worship on the Mount. Other possibilities include an attempt by right-wing extremists to assassinate a prominent Temple Mount Muslim leader, perhaps from the Waqf Islamic trust.

Yatom, speaking on Army Radio of the Jewish Underground of the 1980s, said, "We were very close, close as touching blood, to a most serious terrorist bombing, as members of the Underground planted five bombs in five buses, which were then to convey innocent civilians and tourists. We were close, very close, to a situation in which people with truly distorted, wicked minds, tried to strike a place very sacred to Muslims on the Temple Mount."

Had an attack succeeded 20 years ago or in the current period, the effect would have been similar, and "horrible, terrible," he said. "It would have meant the entire Muslim world against the state of Israel and against the Western world, a war of religions," Yatom said. "With all of their pain and suffering, today's terrorist attacks would be nothing compared to what could happen - even World War III."

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