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Ex- Israeli Army Chief Rafael Eitan Drowns in Mediterranean

By VOA News

Israel's former army chief Rafael Eitan, a former government minister, drowned in the Mediterranean Tuesday after he was swept into the water at Ashdod port. He was 75. He will be laid to rest Wednesday afternoon at the cemetery in his hometown of Tel Adashim in the Jezreel Valley. Eitan drowned Tuesday morning after he was swept into the water at Ashdod port. Helicopters and a rescue ship found his body after nearly two hours of search, but efforts to revive him were not successful. Eitan served as Israel's army chief from 1978 to 1983.

Palestinian Group Picks Abbas as Presidential Candidate

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is a candidate in upcoming elections to succeed Yasir Arafat. The nomination followed a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who promised American support for the elections and received Israeli assurances to help facilitate the process by loosening travel restrictions in the Palestinian territories.

Within hours after meeting with Powell in the West Bank town of Jericho, PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas was formally nominated as Fatah's candidate in the January 9 elections. The nomination was widely expected. Abbas has the support of the Central Committee of Fatah, the largest and most influential faction in the PLO umbrella organization.

The 69-year-old Abbas was a long-time confidante of Arafat and for years his number-two man in the PLO. He is a former prime minister, a moderate who has denounced violence and is seen as a technocrat and favorite of the United States and Israel. In some ways he might just be what Palestinians want right now. Sociologist Nader Izzat Sa'id of Ramallah's Birzeit University says recent opinion polls have shown that Palestinians are tired of the usual politicians and of one-man rule.

Abbas' handling of the smooth transition after Arafat's death to a collective interim leadership has increased his popularity. Not long ago he was deemed to have almost no grassroots support, but according to an opinion survey conducted after Arafat's death, 27 percent of those questioned said they favor Abbas as a leader.

But Abbas does not yet have full support within Fatah. He is a member of the "old guard," and many younger Fatah members want change. Some favor one of their own, 45-year-old Marwan Barghouti as a candidate. The problem is Barghouti, a charismatic Fatah activist, is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli jail for involvement in terrorism.

Younger Fatah members are expected to meet Wednesday to decide whether to oppose or support the Abbas nomination. Abbas told the Palestinian parliament Tuesday that he would follow in Arafat's footsteps and demand that Israel recognize the right of return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

At a memorial ceremony for Arafat at the Palestinian parliament, Abbas said he would walk in the footsteps of the late Palestinian leader. "We promise you [Arafat] that our heart will not rest until we achieve the right of return for our people and end the tragic refugee issue." he said.

Court Rejects Petition Against Bill for Jews-Only Communities

By Ha'aretz

The High Court of Justice dismissed on Tuesday a petition seeking to prevent the Knesset from voting on a bill that would allow the establishment of communities for Jews only. The petition was filed Tuesday by the Mossawa Israeli Arab advocacy center and Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh ahead of Wednesday's scheduled Knesset vote on a preliminary reading of the bill.

The bill, submitted by National Union MK Zvi Hendel, authorized the government to establish a "small community" for "the members of one ethnicity only." The petitioners say the Knesset presidium exceeded its authority in October, when it permitted the bill to reach the Knesset plenum. Knesset regulations explicitly prevent the presidium from approving a private member's bill that is "racist in nature."

The petitioners criticized the Knesset's legal adviser for not clarifying to the presidium what they call the "racist nature of the bill," and for advising Hendel "how to phrase things in a way that will hide and cover up the racist objective of the bill without changing its racist contents and ramifications."

The petition refers to a change in the wording of the bill since it was submitted by the National Union during the previous Knesset term. The previous bill explicitly called for communities intended for the "Jewish sector," saying, "Whoever was not Jewish could not buy land in [such communities] or live there." Those words have been deleted, leaving a more generic bill calling for neighborhoods that preserve a "unique community character."

Could Egypt Have Stopped the Plague?


Many experts believe that if Egyptian officials implemented appropriate measures to control the swarms of locusts, they may not have made their way to Israel, or at least not as many. It appears that Egypt never bothered to use aerial pesticides, deciding to make do with burning tires to create smoke conditions and loud noises, hoping to drive the locust away.

In the meantime, back at home, experts are exhibiting a modicum of optimism following intensive aerial pesticide efforts along with the sharp drop in ambient temperature, another factor that experts believe will help drive them away. Damage reports in the Eilat area and other southern areas indicate the millions of locusts left a path of destruction, destroying crops of many farmers in the southern district.

400,000 Log On to Database of Holocaust Victims

By Ha'aretz

Close to 400,000 Internet surfers from Israel and around the world visited the Web site of Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, during the first 24 hours after the Central Database of Shoah Victims' names went on air at

Yad Vashem officials said this was 10 times more than the average number of visitors per month. Director of the Yad Vashem Hall of Names, and of the new database, Alex Avraham, said that 40 percent of the visitors were from Israel, 33 percent from North America and the rest from other parts of the world.

The central database includes some 2 million "Pages of Testimony," filled out by relatives of Holocaust victims, and another million names compiled from various lists that were given to Yad Vashem. Since Sunday morning, surfers around the world could fill out Pages of Testimony and e-mail them into the center. In this manner, Yad Vashem hopes to compile 5 million victims' names.

In earlier collection campaigns, some 80 percent of the names came from Israelis. Yad Vashem officials estimate that the greatest potential for increasing the record is from the United States. "We are relying on the generation of grandchildren who surf the Web all day, and hope they will ask their grandparents to recount the family's history," Avraham said.

Yad Vashem officials estimated Monday that use of the central database might lead researchers to unexplored areas. Random cross-referencing checks produced interesting results. Thus, for example, a search by country of birth revealed that 468 victims were born in pre-state Palestine, and 338 were born in the United States.

A search according to profession showed that 43,403 victims were doctors, 290,492 were teachers, and 215,458 were housekeepers. Some of the rarer occupations were boxers (11), Hasidic rabbis (43) and newspaper editors (84). The name Esther, in its various spellings appears in the database 116,486 times, and the name Abraham, 71,374 times.

One of the technical challenges involved in creating the database was locating all the variations in name spellings - for example, "Yitzchak" can be spelled 1,500 different ways. However, the database still has multiple entries, and therefore any statistical observations can only be inaccurate estimates.

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