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Israel Approves 1,000 New West Bank Settler Homes

By VOA News

Israel Tuesday approved the construction of about 1,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank. The move is in defiance of the U.S.-backed roadmap peace plan that calls for an Israeli construction freeze in the occupied territories. Analysts say the move appears aimed at defusing resistance within Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud party to forming a unity government with the opposition Labor party. Sharon has said a unity government is needed to push through his plan to evacuate Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Iran Warns Israel on Nuclear Facilities

By VOA News & Ha'aretz

A senior Iranian military commander has said that Iran would destroy Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor, if the Jewish state were to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran's first nuclear power station, at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf coast, is scheduled to begin operating next year.

A senior commander warned that Iranian missiles could reach Dimona. "If Israel fires a missile into the Bushehr nuclear power plant, it has to say goodbye forever to its Dimona nuclear facility, where it produces and stockpiles nuclear weapons," said the deputy chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, in a statement.

Israel has not directly threatened to attack the facility. But the United States says it suspects Iran is secretly building nuclear weapons, and Israel said it would not allow Tehran to have a nuclear bomb. Iran insists its nuclear program is for generating electricity and other peaceful uses.

Israel has never confirmed or denied having a nuclear arsenal. But its reactor at Dimona is widely believed to be the source of plutonium used to build as many as 200 nuclear warheads.

Ha'aretz reported Tuesday that Iran and South Africa have signed a memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation. The deal paves the way for the two countries to expand trade ties, and may include South Africa selling uranium to Tehran. South African Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and his Iranian counterpart Rear-Admiral Ali Shamkhani signed the memorandum. This was the first such visit by a South African defense minister to Tehran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

At the signing ceremony, Shamkhani praised South Africa for its position on Iran's nuclear weapons program. He said that the agreement would lead to the expansion of bilateral cooperation in all areas. Lekota reportedly said that making peaceful use of nuclear energy is the legitimate right of the Islamic Republic.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, the head of Military Intelligence's research department, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that Iran is expected to have full nuclear ability by early 2007. Kuperwasser also said that Iran would purchase the technology it needs to enrich uranium by the first half of next year.

Israel Troops Kill Palestinian Militants in Gaza Strip

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinian militants near a settlement in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. The Israeli Army said the men were shot after they were seen carrying what was believed to be an explosive device. The incident took place near a Jewish settlement in Gaza.

A militant Abu el-Reesh Brigades group affiliated with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat's Fatah faction acknowledged that two of its members were killed. The group issued a statement saying the two men, from the Gaza town of Khan Younis, were shot while planting a bomb beside an army jeep.

Palestinian medics said Israeli troops shot and killed a nine-year-old boy during a confrontation with stone-throwers in the West Bank city of Nablus. Israeli soldiers were searching for militants and bomb-making factories when Palestinians said the troops opened fire while confronting the stone-throwers. Israel has not commented.

And in sympathy with a food strike instituted by 1,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, Yasir Arafat said he would join the prisoners in their hunger strike, now in day three. According to a reported in a London-based Arabic newspaper, Arafat also called on all PA leaders to join the strike.

Archaeologist Claims to Uncover Cave Linked to John the Baptist

By VOA News & Ha'aretz

A British archaeologist said he has dug up evidence linking John the Baptist to a cave used for ancient bathing rituals near Jerusalem, in what may be a major breakthrough in biblical scholarship. Shimon Gibson, who has been digging in the Holy Land for nearly three decades, says excavations at the cave have revealed a large bathing pool, as well as objects used for anointing rituals.

The New Testament preacher John the Baptist lived at the time of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. Gibson said evidence of specific links to John at the site come from cave drawings made 400 to 500 years later, which apparently portray the preacher.

However, other scholars said there is no actual proof that John the Baptist ever set foot in the cave, about four kilometers from Ein Kerem, the preacher's hometown.

During a tour of the cave at Kibbutz Tzuba, south of Jerusalem, archaeologists presented the ancient wall decorations, as well as a stone they believe was used for ceremonial foot washing. They also reported sifting about 250,000 pottery shards from the cave, the apparent remnants of small water jugs used in baptismal ritual. The oldest shards are from the mid-second century BCE.

"The site we've uncovered is seemingly the connecting link between Jewish and Christian baptism," said Gibson, who heads the private Jerusalem Archaeological Field Unit and supervised the dig.

Kibbutz Tzuba members led Gibson to the cave in 1999, and he proceeded to measure it as part of an environmental-archaeological survey he was conducting. To his surprise, he uncovered drawings carved into the walls when he crawled through the small opening and began removing boulders near the wall. The drawings, dated to the fourth or fifth century CE, display symbols related to John the Baptist, including his image, decapitated head, hand (the only bodily remnant, according to scripture), and a cross shape.

Gibson and his assistant, Rafi Lewis, spent three years excavating the cave, which measures 26 meters long and around 4 meters wide, with an average height of 5 meters.

Man in McGreevey Affair Returns to Israel

By Mike Lavers (PlanetOut Network)
Appearing in person for the first time since he was identified as New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey's former lover last week, Golan Cipel briefly spoke to reporters gathered outside his family's home in Israel. "I have had a very difficult time," Cipel said, speaking in Hebrew outside his parents' apartment building in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon L'Tzion. "I have come to Israel to be with my family at this time." Cipel, citing legal reasons, did not comment on allegations he and his lawyer tried to extort millions of dollars from the governor in exchange for not filing a sexual harassment lawsuit. In a statement released a short time later, Cipel reaffirmed his claim that McGreevey sexually harassed him on numerous occasions. "Sexual harassment is a very difficult thing and those who haven't been through it don't understand how difficult it can be," he said, as reported by Reuters. "I came to Israel to muster strength with my family and my friends." Cipel also said he would return to the United States in "a few weeks" in order to "make sure justice was done." In an interview with an Israel newspaper on Sunday, Cipel claimed he is not gay.

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