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Air Force Warns: Locust Swarm On Its Way to the Northern Negev

By Israel

The Ramat Hanegev regional council, in the northern Negev, has received a warning from the Israel Air Force that a swarm of locusts, extending for six miles, is on its way. Reports indicate the swarm is flying at relatively high altitude; its direction or destination cannot be determined with certainty. The farmers in the Ramat Hanegev area have been warned and are carrying out preparations in the event that the locusts do indeed hit their farms.

US, Israeli, and Palestinian Officials Discuss Peace Process

By Larry James (VOA-Jericho)

Secretary of State Colin Powell sought to revive long-stalled peace efforts in separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In Jerusalem, Powell won Israeli assurances to facilitate upcoming Palestinian elections and in the West Bank city of Jericho he said he sensed a strong commitment by Palestinian leaders to continue reforms and end violence.

It has been a year and a half since Powell was last in the Middle East for direct talks with Israeli or Palestinian officials. Since then, the internationally backed road map peace plan seemed hopelessly stalled. Washington and Israel blamed Yasir Arafat for failing to implement the peace plan and refused to deal with the Palestinian leader.

But since Arafat's death earlier this month, all sides are talking of new opportunities for peace that must not be missed. After meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Palestinian leaders in Jericho, Powell called for a revival of the road map. "What has changed is a new set of circumstances in the aftermath of the chairman's passing with new leaders coming forward from the Palestinian side or a new arrangement of leaders on the Palestinian side, and with an election coming up I think it gives us the opportunity to re-energize the road map process," he said.

Powell did say that for peace efforts to have a chance, the Palestinians must stop violence and incitement. He praised efforts by the new interim Palestinian leadership to convince militant groups to halt attacks and instead join the political process. Washington has also thrown its support behind plans for Palestinian elections Jan. 9 to choose a successor to Arafat.

When Powell met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and then with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom earlier, he discussed the need to help facilitate the elections. "The Palestinians will need access for candidates to move around, for people to get to polling stations. We did not get into the specifics of timing of actions that Israel might take, but they understand what the need is."

Foreign Minister Shalom promised support as long as it does not jeopardize Israeli security. "Israel will do everything it can in order to ease conditions for the Palestinians to have their own elections. It includes, of course freedom of movement." Shalom did not specify whether Israel would actually withdraw its troops from Palestinian areas, as called for by Palestinian leaders.

Left-Wing Party Sends Condolences on Arafat's Death


.By a 17-14 vote, the board of the Yachad Party - formerly known as Meretz - resolved to send condolences to the "Palestinian nation" on the loss of its leader, Yasir Arafat. The vote followed a stormy debate, Ynet reported. MK Ran Cohen, who lost to Yossi Beilin in his bid to head the party eight months ago, said, "Arafat was directly responsible for the terrorism. It's inconceivable that we should grant legitimacy for terrorism by sending condolences."

A member of the party leadership, Muhammed Awad, agreed: "I wouldn't have minded if Arafat had died 20 years ago. What good is it to send condolences? Just for Ahmed Tibi [it's good]. There's no need to shed tears for Arafat. Arafat is said to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of Israeli citizens, untold numbers of Arabs and more than 100 U.S. citizens. Over the past 11 years since the Oslo Accords were signed, some 1,300 Israelis were murdered. The note stating the Yachad Party's condolences on the death of Arafat would be sent to Abu Mazen's office.

Arafat's Death May Remain a Mystery


Yasir Arafat's nephew, Nasser al-Kidwa, who has obtained his uncle's medical records from Percy Military Hospital officials, has now announced the actual cause of death is not obtainable from the information available, Kol Yisrael's Reshet Bet Radio reported.

There is ongoing speculation as to the cause of death of the late arch terrorist and PA leader. While some officials in the PA accused Israel of poisoning Arafat, medical officials in France stated there was no evidence to back up such allegations. Hamas "politburo" official Khaled Meshal stated that when Israel tried assassinating him in Jordan a number of years ago, using a chemical agent, there was no trace evidence in his lab work and he continues to accuse Israel of using the same substance against Arafat, a non-traceable agent. In the meantime, other speculative reports regarding his death list cirrhosis and AIDS as possible causes.

Yad Vashem Holocaust Victims´ Names On-Line


A new website was inaugurated this week: The Yad Vashem site of Holocaust victims at, is termed a "historic" central database of Shoah [Holocaust] Victims, and contains some three million names. It is an attempt to reconstruct the names, and some of the life stories, of all the Jews who perished in the Nazi Holocaust.

The sophisticated technology allows users worldwide to access a treasure trove of millions of personal and historical documents archived in 14 languages using cutting-edge web search systems. Through interactive features, users can perform comprehensive searches, submit information, and take part in educational programs.

Much of the information is based on "Pages of Testimony" that Yad Vashem has been collecting from survivors for nearly 50 years. The pages include basic information on known victims, including name, date and place of birth, place of residence before the war, profession, parents' and spouses' names, and where and when they perished during the Holocaust.

Torah Education Claimed as U.S. Tax Deduction Expense


An Orthodox Jewish couple from Los Angeles is demanding the right to claim their children's Jewish day school tuition as a tax-deductible expense. Michael and Maria Sklar, whose children attend the Toras Emes school, said that they should be entitled to deduct their tuition costs - just as members of the Church of Scientology are entitled to write off their "spiritual counseling" expenses.

The Sklars' lawyer, Jeffrey Zuckerman, submitted a copy of the secret agreement to this effect between the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and the Scientologists. The agreement had been leaked to the Wall Street Journal, and Zuckerman asked that it be admitted into evidence. The IRS' lawyer objected, and the judge said he would consider the request.

After several years of successfully claiming the tuition deduction, the IRS audited Michael Sklar in 1994, and the claim was disallowed. He sued and lost both the case and a subsequent appeal. The current lawsuit was filed over his 1995 return, in which he wishes to save some $3,200 in taxes on about $15,000 in tuition costs.

"The same benefit is given to a particular sect, Scientologists, and there's no reason it shouldn't be applied to someone else," Sklar said. The lawyer for the IRS countered that the law states clearly, "Deduction for religious school tuition is illegal, period," and that a ruling to the contrary would lead "millions of Americans to start deducting religious school tuition."

In addition to arguing that there must be no preferential treatment towards Scientology over other religions, Sklar also claimed that the tuition was a charitable contribution in that his children received an "intangible religious benefit" far beyond mere education. Torah is a "living, breathing text," he told the court, "which actually has an effect on body and soul... That is what recharges us and renews our link with God."

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