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Israeli Report: Government Could Soon Pay Settlers to Leave Gaza

By VOA News

Israeli radio says Israel could soon begin paying cash advances to Jewish settlers who volunteer to leave their homes in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is trying to persuade settlers to leave early as part of his plan to withdraw all settlers and troops from Gaza and a small portion of the West Bank by the end of next year. A lawyer for dozens of settler families, Yosef Tamir, says the cash advances - as part of a compensation package - could be available by October. Many of Gaza's 7,500 Jewish settlers have vowed to fight any government evacuation orders.

Iran: Israel Will Be 'Wiped Off Face of the Earth' If It Attacks

By, Ha'aretz, Reuters & AFP

Iran has threatened to "wipe Israel off the globe" if Israel were to attack Iran's nuclear program. It is not clear if the Arrow can also intercept Iran's Shihab-3 missiles, which are not only faster than Scuds, but could also be armed with chemical or nuclear warheads.

Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz said that Teheran had "broken all the rules" when it reneged on its commitment to suspend production of nuclear centrifuge equipment, used in the production of enriched uranium - a prime ingredient for an atomic bomb. He said that international pressure against Iran's nuclear ambitions could obviate the need for a military operation.

A spokesman for Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards was quoted by the Iranian student news agency ISNA as saying; "The United States is showing off by threatening to use its wild dog, Israel. They will not hesitate to strike Iran if they are capable of it. However, their threats to attack Iran's nuclear facilities cannot be realized. They are aware Tehran's reaction will be so harsh that Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth and U.S. interests will be easily damaged," he warned.

The commander asserted that Iran would not initiate a conflict, but in retaliation to any attack has proved itself to be "harsh, assertive, hard-hitting and destructive." Iran's controversial bid to generate nuclear power is seen by archenemies Israel and the United States as a cover for nuclear weapons development, allegations that Iran denies.

Iranian agents are negotiating with a Russian company to buy a substance that can boost nuclear explosions in atomic weapons, according to an intelligence agency report being circulated by diplomats. But the Russian government, which monitors nuclear-related exports closely, denied any Russian companies were planning to supply Iran with the substance, known as deuterium gas.

The two-page report cited "knowledgeable Russian sources" for the information, which Washington will likely point to as more proof that Tehran wants to acquire nuclear weaponry. "Iranian middlemen ... are in the advanced stages of negotiations in Russia to buy deuterium gas," the report said. Iran denied wanting atomic arms and said its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Deuterium is used as a tracer molecule in medicine and biochemistry and is used in heavy water reactors of the type Iran is building. But it can also be combined with tritium and used as a "booster" in nuclear fusion bombs of the implosion type. It is not illegal for Iran to purchase deuterium but it should be reported to the IAEA.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon said on Tuesday that all diplomatic efforts should be exhausted before any further steps to stop Iran obtaining nuclear arms are considered. He said Israel was concerned about Israeli intelligence assessments that Iran could build an atomic bomb by 2007.

Although not ruling out action, Ya'alon stressed it was not only a worry just for Israel, but also the United States, Europe and moderate Arab states. Ya'alon's language appeared aimed at toning down talk that Israel, which bombed Iraq's Osiraq reactor in 1981, could follow a similar path in Iran.

Israel does "not necessarily" have to resort to military action to counter the threat, Ya'alon replied to a question about whether Israel should take action against Iran. "Political pressure certainly has potential, just as it worked on Libya. And this must be exhausted first of all, in my view," he said. The United States, Europe, and moderate Arab states would all "be threatened by a nuclear Iran," he added.

Palestinian Officials Say Arafat Must Deliver on Promises

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Top Palestinian officials say Yasir Arafat must live up to promises he has made to reform security forces and rid his administration of corruption. Arafat agreed to the changes in a meeting with his prime minister to end a political crisis and violent protests against his government. Palestinian Cabinet ministers say the pledges made by Arafat to his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, on Tuesday must be translated into deeds.

Among those saying this is Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath. "When you make decisions they are not sufficient to bring about full credibility. What would make them credible is how they are implemented, which I hope will happen." Shaath was responding to a reported promise by Arafat to give the prime minister responsibility for at least some of the Palestinian security services.

The move followed two weeks of violent protests in the Gaza Strip by Palestinians demanding changes in security personnel. The protesters also called for an end to what they perceive as rampant corruption within the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian Minister for Negotiations Saeb Erekat said Arafat also committed himself to tackling this problem.

"President Arafat and the prime minister called upon the attorney general to expedite all the files transferred to his office dealing with corruption," he said. "And we need expeditious results immediately and President Arafat and the prime minister have both said no one will be immune."

For his part, Prime Minister Qureia withdrew his resignation at Arafat's request. Qureia said he hoped this marks a new era of openness. "All issues have been discussed in a very open way and in a very comprehensive way. I hope that this is a new step toward imposing the rule of law in all the country."

Israeli Military Revises West Bank Barrier Route

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel's military has drawn up a new route for the controversial West Bank security barrier to comply with a ruling by the country's Supreme Court. The changes are in line with the court's decision that the barrier should not cause undue hardship to Palestinians. The Defense Ministry said the changes would bring a 24-mile stretch of the project, northwest of Jerusalem, closer to Israel's border with the West Bank.

The proposal follows a decision last month against the current route by Israel's Supreme Court. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the changes are aimed at complying with the court's ruling and addressing what he calls problems connected to the living conditions of Palestinians.

Palestinian Minister for Negotiations Saeb Erekat said any new route would be opposed unless Israel agreed to move the barrier entirely out of the West Bank. He said that Israel should erect the barrier only along or on its side of the so-called Green Line, which delineates the West Bank from Israel.

The Palestinian Authority said that the real motivation behind the project was Israel's desire to seize more territory. Israel denied the claim and said that the only purpose of the barrier was to stop Palestinians entering the Jewish State from the West Bank to carry out terrorist attacks.

Several Israeli military commanders, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters they remain against the proposed new route. The commanders said the changes would bring the barrier to within 975 feet of several Jerusalem neighborhoods, making them extremely vulnerable to a Palestinian terror attack. The proposed new route will be presented to a committee headed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which will make a final decision on the matter.

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