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Egypt Expected to Push el-Assad


During Tuesday's Sharm el-Sheikh meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syrian President Bashar el-Assad, Mubarak is likely to ask the Syrian leader to have Egypt's foreign minister and intelligence chief act as an intermediary to Israel. The two senior Egyptian officials will be meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. It is likely that Egypt will deliver some sort of message on Wednesday indicating Syria's willingness to resume diplomatic contacts and negotiations with Israel. Egypt is most interested in portraying itself as a peace intermediary in the region.

Senior Hamas Leader Holds Out Possibility of Cease-Fire with Israel

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

A senior leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas said his organization would not stand in the way of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement if it were fair for the Palestinians. He also held out prospects for a long-term cease-fire with Israel. Sheik Hassan Yusef is the top Hamas leader in the West Bank, and his comments are the most moderate a member of the group has made publicly.

Hamas has never recognized the right of Israel to exist and has carried out dozens of attacks against Israelis during the past four years of violence, but Sheik Yusef indicated the group might be re-thinking its strategy as it explores new avenues in a post-Arafat era. Violence has dropped off considerably since Arafat's death on Nov. 11, with the interim Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government seemingly eager for a calm transition.

Speaking on Israel Radio, Sheik Yusef spoke of Israel and the Palestinians living side by side under a long-term cease-fire. "This may surprise you," he said, "but a 'hudna' - a cease-fire, should be between two sides that agree to live together side by side. Such a 'hudna' could be for 10 years and could be extended." However, he has also said a truce would have to be respected by both sides.

The Palestinians are preparing for elections in January to choose a successor to Arafat, and front-runner Mahmoud Abbas has been meeting with militant groups to discuss their cooperation. Sheik Yusef said while Hamas would not field a candidate in the elections, it is watching the process closely. He indicated Hamas wants to become part of the political process and possibly join a future government.

Sheik Yusef also said Hamas would not veto a peace agreement with Israel as long as it is fair and restores the rights of the Palestinians. "We would study any such agreement carefully." He said his comments should be seen in the context of "new realities" and a reflection of Hamas' growing "maturity." Sheik Yusef called on Israel and the international community to re-consider their characterization of Hamas as a terrorist organization. He has spent the past two years in an Israeli jail and was just recently released.

High Court Overturns Rabbinical Court Ruling


The Supreme Court has determined that a Monaco man who refuses to give his wife a Jewish divorce may not be held in Israel against his will. The story began six years ago when the couple - married in both Jewish and civil ceremonies - received a civil divorce in Monaco. The husband refused to give his wife a get [Jewish divorce], however, thus that the woman was prevented from marrying anyone else.

The woman moved to Israel in the meanwhile, while the husband persisted in his refusal to allow her to continue with her life. She found out several months ago that he was planning a visit to Israel, and turned to the Rabbinical Court for help. Upon his arrival in the country seven months ago, the Court issued an injunction forbidding him to leave until he gives his wife the longed-for document.

The man countered by turning to the Supreme Court, which issued a majority opinion in his favor Monday. The Court ruled that the Rabbinical Courts have no jurisdiction over a foreign citizen. "However painful and difficult the woman's problem is," the Court ruled, "this can have no effect on the principles of international [relations]." Justice Elyakim Rubenstein was in the minority in his opinion that the Rabbinical Court should be allowed a say in this matter.

Scientology Settlement Puts IRS in a Kosher Pickle

By The National Law Journal

Tax lawyers are watching a trial in Los Angeles that pits an orthodox Jewish family against the Internal Revenue Service over whether tuition for religious education is deductible -- based in part on a "secret" settlement between the IRS and the Church of Scientology.

"It's not clear that [plaintiffs] Michael and Marla Sklar will win, but if they do, it may well mean that millions of families will be able to deduct some portion of private religious school education," said Prof. Evelyn Brody, a Chicago-Kent College of Law tax specialist. "It would force the IRS to deal with millions of dollars in new deductions and it would overwhelm them."

Elizabeth Pierson, a tax attorney with Los Angeles' Hoffman Sabban & Watenmaker, said the case has tax lawyers' attention. "The Sklars are trying to establish a brave new world where private compromises between the government and taxpayers can be relied on by unrelated taxpayers, not the norm," she said. "And it's a constitutional question of the separation of church and state, because, if religious education becomes deductible, it means that taxpayers are subsidizing religion."

The fight is over $3,200 in taxes Sklar saved by deducting about $15,000 in tuition for his children's religious education at an orthodox school in Los Angeles. Sklar v. Commissioner, 000395-01 (U.S. Tax Ct., L.A.). Michael Sklar, who is an accountant, sued the IRS over the same deduction in 1997 over his 1994 return and lost. The current suit is over his 1995 tax return. IRS attorney Louis Jack said he is not allowed to comment on the case. But in his opening remarks, Jack said that case law is clear that tuition for religious schooling is not deductible.

The Sklars have launched two arguments. First, according to Jeffrey Zuckerman, the family's attorney, Congress amended the tax code in 1993, adding intangible benefits from charitable donations to the list of things that are deductible. For example, a $125 ticket to a fund-raising dinner is reduced by the value of the dinner, and the difference can be deducted. Sklar argues that part of the tuition, the excess beyond the actual cost of private secular education, which is considered tangible, can be deducted.

Second, the IRS struck a 1993 deal with the Church of Scientology that allows Scientologists to deduct the cost of training and auditing, a form of religious education, which means that all religious tuition should be deductible. Auditing refers to one-to-one encounters with church officials, through which the student becomes aware of his or her spiritual dimension. Training refers to doctrine classes, according to the U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Hernandez v. Commissioner, 490 U.S. 680 (1989). The settlement, which came after the 1993 opinion, ended a battle between the IRS and the church that began in the 1960s when Scientologists lost their IRS standing as a church.

"The IRS has publicly called them a church and described training and auditing as deductible," said Zuckerman, an antitrust and labor lawyer with the Washington, D.C., office of New York's Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle. "That recognition should be extended to all religions, and it is discrimination not to."

Brody, who serves on the American Bar Association Tax Committee, said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled on the disparate treatment argument. "They said it doesn't matter how the Scientologists are treated, and, anyway, the Scientologists shouldn't have gotten what they did," Brody said. "That's why we're all watching the case -- we've been expecting it." He added, "When the IRS settled with the Scientologists, after they'd beaten them, we knew deductions for tuition would come into question."

If the Sklars prevail, it will drive the issue back to Congress, according to Gail Richmond, a professor of law and associate dean at the Shepard Broad Law Center of Nova Southeastern University in Florida. "It will force the IRS to come up with a calculation and the next fight will be over where that line is," she said.

An Israeli Brief
(Guysen Israel News)

A poll published in the Israeli edition of the National Geographic reveals that 42% of the Israelis would be convinced that man has been created as described in the Torah, while they are only 31% to adopt the evolution theory. Judaism sees no antagonism between these two versions, since the creation of the world might have preceded the creation of Adam, the first man, by several billion years.

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