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'Mecca-Cola' on Sale in Israel

By VOA News

A soft drink named after Islam's holiest city and that supports Palestinian charities has gone on sale in Israeli-Arab stores. The founder of Mecca-Cola, Tawfik Mathlouthi, introduced the soft drink two years ago in France and says he has donated 10 percent of the beverage's profits to Palestinian charities ever since. With the sale of the product in Israel, Mathlouthi said he wanted to "struggle against Zionism inside its home, even though he insists he does not have any problem with Jews." Mecca-Cola already is sold in a number of Arab and Muslim countries and in Europe.

Explosion in Southern Gaza Kills 3 Palestinians

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Three Palestinian militants died in the Gaza Strip Tuesday in a failed attempt to bomb Israeli troops. The incident came as Israeli forces continued their efforts to destroy tunnels used to smuggle weapons from Egypt. The three militants were killed when a bomb exploded as they were preparing to set it off against an Israeli army bulldozer Tuesday in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, said two of the dead were members of the group. A third was said to be a member of the armed wing of Fatah, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Both groups have carried out frequent attacks against Israel and are listed by the State Department as terrorist organizations.

Rafah is one of the strongholds in Gaza for both groups. Palestinian militants have been planting mines in the area in a bid to drive out Israeli forces. Backed by tanks and bulldozers, the Israeli army is in Rafah to locate and blow up tunnels used to smuggle weapons and explosives from Egypt into the Gaza Strip.

On Tuesday, Hamas broadcast a video on an Arabic television network showing three masked men in Gaza surrounded by weapons. One of the men read out a statement threatening to rain down homemade rockets from the Gaza Strip on the nearby Jewish town of Sderot, unless Israeli forces withdrew from the nearby Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun.

Sderot is in the southern Negev area of Israel, only three kilometers from the Gaza Strip and has become a frequent target in recent months for such attacks. In June, a Hamas rocket killed two Israelis in Sderot, one of them a four-year-old boy.

Israel Continues to Transfer Money to Palestinians


Though it is widely believed that economic agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are frozen because of the latter's refusal to fulfill its basic obligation to fight terrorism - it's not true. Only two weeks ago, on July 18, Israel transferred no less than 4.3 million shekels - almost $1 million - to the Palestinian Authority's account in Israel's Postal Bank. The source for this information? A copy of a bank transfer statement that mistakenly reached a Jewish resident of the Shomron.

The errant bank notice stated that the transferred funds are for "Value Added Tax." The 1993 Oslo Accords stipulated that the PA would be exempt from paying the 17% VAT that Israelis pay for goods and services. Israel thus periodically reimburses the PA for the sums it paid in VAT.

Health Minister Danny Naveh recently said, "The situation in which the money transferred by Israel to the PA is used for terrorism is an insane situation that must be stopped."

Experts: Arafat will Survive Challenge from His Own Party

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

In more than 40 years as leader of the Palestinians, Yasir Arafat has seen many challenges. But perhaps none more serious than the one he now faces. This time, it is not from his old foe, the Israelis, but from forces within the Palestinian leader's own political faction.

The trouble had been bubbling under the surface for months. It boiled over in the Gaza Strip several weeks ago in violent protests by Palestinians angered by the appointment of Musa Arafat, a cousin of the Palestinian leader, as chief of security. Although the appointment was later rescinded, the violence continued with kidnappings of both foreigners and Palestinian figures viewed as corrupt. The unrest spread to the West Bank in a demonstration of the Palestinian public's anger at what they see as a leadership that is both inept and corrupt.

Such charges have been leveled before, but Yasir Arafat has managed to remain above the turmoil. That is no longer the case. For the first time since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, rage against corrupt leadership has the backing of the most powerful militia in Gaza, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades which is linked to Yasir Arafat's own Fatah movement and should be under his control.

Some analysts believe al Aqsa is now positioning itself to become not just an armed militia, but also a political force in its own right and one that does not have to answer necessarily to Yasir Arafat. The catalyst for this move, they believe, was the announcement by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel would withdraw completely from the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005. The question is, once the Israelis go, who will fill the power vacuum.

Jonathan Halevi of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs said al Aqsa is positioning itself to directly challenge Yasir Arafat himself. "They want to dominate the Palestinian Authority by kicking out the old guard who is [are] considered to be corrupted and for them they see it [the Israeli withdrawal] as a golden opportunity," he said. "The struggle over the Palestinian Authority, after the disengagement was declared, has begun."

The Palestinian Authority has maintained that the unrest in Gaza is the result of the Israeli occupation and not an outpouring of public outrage at corruption and cronyism within the organization. "The idea of having a very well functioning government under the Israeli occupation that is basically aimed at destroying us and negating our national existence is a fantasy," said Nasser al Kidwa, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations and a nephew of Yasir Arafat.

Other Palestinians see the problem very differently and with Yasir Arafat at the heart of it. They believe that changes in the political leadership are critically important. Mahdi Abdul Hadi is the founder of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem. He believes the most urgent need is for elections that would give Palestinians a real chance to clean house and get rid of those tainted with corruption. But, he says, as long as Yasir Arafat is in office that is not likely to happen.

"Elections are needed and Arafat will continue to play the game of in and out, postponing it," said Hadi. "He's a master of tactics and by the end of the day the agenda is personal survival," but Hadi also said that, while the discontent among Palestinians is aimed at their leadership, it does not extend far enough to pose a serious threat to Arafat. He said he is too much a symbol of the Palestinian people, their hopes and aspirations. And, while he believes it would be better for the Palestinians if their leader himself would yield some of his authority in some power sharing arrangement, he does not see that ever happening.

"I cannot see Mr. Arafat another Mandela. I cannot see Mr. Arafat another Ghandi. He is there and he will not give it up," continued Hadi. "And he will not change his status quo and he will struggle and fight for the last drop of blood in his body to maintain his seat of power."

Hadi is not alone in seeing Arafat weathering yet another storm. On Tuesday, Israel's chief of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze'evi Farkash predicted that the latest challenges would not last. Farkash told the Israeli parliament that Arafat has survived the crisis and that the political moves against him have failed.

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