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NY Times: Sharon is Worried


According to New York Times columnist William Safire, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon admitted, "Part of my own party is against joining with Labor. I might not have a majority in the Knesset." Safire, who enjoys a long and close connection with the prime minister, wrote that Sharon also told him in a telephone conversation that the Palestinian Authority has not taken the "slightest step" in fighting terrorism.

Seven Palestinians Killed in Israeli Gaza Raid

By Larry James (VOA-Jerusalem)

At least seven Palestinians were killed and six others injured in an Israeli raid on the Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya. The Israeli military said tank fire was targeted at militants preparing to shell Israelis, but Palestinian witnesses said the casualties were civilian farmers. The Israeli army said it fired in response to mortar attacks by Palestinian militants that injured one Israeli working in the Erez industrial zone and two others when a shell exploded near an Israeli school bus.

According to Palestinian witnesses the dead and wounded Palestinians were farmers working in a strawberry field. The Israeli military said a tank fired two shells at nine masked militants who had just fired two mortar shells. It said the militants were members of Hamas.

A Palestinian hospital official identified the dead by name and said that six of them were from the same family. He said the casualties ranged in age from 11 to 17. But Israeli military sources said Palestinian liaison officers identified six of the dead as being 17 or older. David Baker, an official in the Israeli prime minister's office, accused the militants of using civilians as human shields.

Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas told supporters at a campaign rally in Gaza that the dead were martyrs killed by the "Zionist enemy." It was unusually harsh language for Abbas, who is considered a moderate. He called off a planned visit to the hospital where the wounded were being treated when two powerful explosions, apparently from Israeli tanks shells, went off near his motorcade. Palestinian security officials said militants had fired two homemade rockets from near the hospital at Israeli troops.

Palestinian militants in Gaza have increased their attacks on Israeli targets in recent months in what is seen as an attempt to make it appear they are forcing the withdrawal from Gaza that Israel plans later this year. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has warned that Israel would respond forcefully to any violence and Israeli raids into Gaza have increased accordingly.

Abbas has called for an end to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel but has also said he would not use force to stop them. He has said he prefers to bring the militants into the political process and not crack down on them, as Israel has demanded.

Officials Condemn Abu Mazen´s Extreme Statements


We are praying for the souls of our martyrs who fell today to the shells of the Zionist enemy" -- a term even Yasir Arafat refrained from using with regard to the Jewish State. This was how current leader of the PLO, and frontrunner for coming Palestinian Authority elections, Mahmoud (Abu Mazen) Abbas reacted to Tuesday's successful IDF strike against a terrorist cell in northern Gaza. Abbas was speaking at a campaign rally in Khan Younis in the Gaza region when he made the hostile remarks, according to a Reuters report on the speech.

Abbas made the reference to "the Zionist enemy" during a rally in Gaza's Khan Younis slums - from which many of the rocket and mortar-shell attacks on Jewish communities in Gush Katif and the western Negev have emanated. "We are praying for the souls of our martyrs who were killed today by the shells of the Zionist enemy," Abbas told a cheering mob. Reports of the speech's hostile speech, which followed an IDF counter-terror operation, have made international headlines.

Though some attribute Abbas' vocal support for terrorists and vicious anti-Israel incitement as part of his election campaign, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom rejected such claims. "We cannot accept the argument that Abbas' statements stem from campaigning motives," Shalom said of the PLO chief. The Western press covered previous statements by Abbas, wherein he regarded the Arab terrorist offensive as being a mistake, widely. "If Abu Mazen meant [in his earlier statements] that launching attacks from Gaza harms the Palestinians, Israel expects him to translate his words into actions," Shalom said.

Israeli government officials have refrained from publicly criticizing Abbas in public since the death of Arafat in November 2004. "This is the worst we have heard in a long time," said Shalom, explaining his decision to break the silence.

In recent days, Abu Mazen has embraced various terror groups, promising them he would not fight terrorism on behalf of Israel. In a campaign speech Monday, he vowed never to take up arms against terror groups. "Palestinians taking up arms against each other will not happen," Abbas pledged. Last week he was carried on the shoulders of armed terrorists during a campaign rally. "They are freedom fighters . . . and should live a dignified and safe life," said Abbas, adding that his people "owed a debt" to the various terror groups.

"Without a doubt, what Abu Mazen said was intolerable and unacceptable, and it cannot serve as a basis for any future cooperation," said Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Olmert then went on to excuse Abbas' "intolerable and unacceptable" words by intimating the favored candidate-to-replace Arafat said them merely to garner votes, and was not revealing his true intentions. "After January 9, we will relate to such comments and judge them differently than we do now."

Intelligence Chief Warns: Gaza Will Become Southern Lebanon


Avi Dichter, the head of Israel's intelligence agency, issued a dire warning against withdrawing from the Philadelphi Route, adding that quitting northern Shomron would expose Israeli cities to shelling attacks. Dichter, who heads Israel's General Security Service (Shabak), appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and spoke out unambiguously against aspects of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan.

Leaving northern Samaria and removing the IDF presence there will "turn the region into Gaza" in terms of terror activity, according to Dichter, while leaving the Philadelphi Route will "bring southern Lebanon to southern Israel." The only way to protect cities within Israel's pre-1967 borders is to maintain an Israeli presence throughout Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza), Dichter said, adding that only forces on the spot can stop the firing of mortar shells and rockets. He said, however, in answer to a question by Shinui MK Ettie Livneh, that he sees no security necessity in having a Jewish civilian presence in Gaza.

Dichter told the committee that the upcoming PA election is not likely to change the level of terrorist activity in the PA-controlled areas. "It was, and will remain, a place of refuge for terrorists," he said.

Knesset member Uri Ariel (National Union), a member of the Knesset committee, pointed out that Dichter's words were reminiscent of the Shabak chief's warnings prior to Israel's withdrawal from the southern Lebanon security zone in 2000 - which proved correct. Back then, Dichter warned that a withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon would inspire widespread terrorist activity amongst the Arabs of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Ariel implied that Sharon wishes to obscure the security dangers inherent in the implementation of his disengagement plan.

Israelis Send Wave of Food to Tsunami Survivors


A huge four-day nationwide food drive began Monday with tons of key products collected at supermarkets throughout Israel being immediately dispatched to the Tsunami disaster zone in Southeast Asia.

The mobilization was organized by Magen David Adom (Israel's Red Cross equivalent), backed fully by MDA's American support organization ARMDI, American Red Magen David for Israel, which has established its own emergency relief campaign in the US.

At the end of the first day, MDA reported that the Israeli public, including Israeli Arabs from northern Israel and from eastern Jerusalem, donated 2.5 tons of flour, 4 tons of rice, 920 liters of oil, 2.5 tons of sugar, 1.5 tons of plain pasta, 39, 000 liters of mineral water, 900 kilos of dried beans and 700 kilos of jams and conserves. "We had initially chosen just two days for the food drive, but the response has been so incredible, that we've decided to extend it for another two days and ship the goods on Friday from Ashdod port", said Israeli Magen David Adom's International Director, Mr. Yoni Yagudofsky.

Working closely with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, more than 4,000 MDA workers and volunteers stood outside Israeli supermarkets and shopping malls for 48 hours until midnight Monday night, collecting huge supplies of mineral water, rice, oil, sugar and flour from the public, all headed today to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Israeli Company Offers Free Tsunami Alert System

By Reuters

An Israeli company said on Monday it planned to distribute free to Asian countries hit by last week's tsunami a device it said could save lives by warning holiday-makers directly that a tidal wave was coming. The system developed by Israeli inventor Meir Gitelis uses land and water sensors, smaller than a shoebox and each costing $170, to measure seismic activity and wave motion.

Like other systems already in operation, the sensors can send alerts in seconds by satellite to governments anywhere in the world. Unlike others, this system can also relay warnings directly to private subscribers over cell phones, pagers or dedicated receivers, spreading the message more widely.

Seaside hotels could install a satellite receiver to pick up warnings broadcast over the system seconds after an earthquake that could cause giant waves. Local cell phone or pager networks could do the same and send SMS messages to their subscribers. U.S. officials who detected the quake said they tried frantically to warn that the wall of water was coming, but there was no official alert system in the Indian Ocean because such catastrophes happen so rarely.

Gitelis said his system could be particularly effective in holiday resorts like those devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami, which took an estimated 75 minutes to reach Thailand and much longer to hit Sri Lanka and parts of India. But in areas with poor communications it could still be hard to warn people of the approaching danger.

Knesset Member Suggests Declaring Hebrew as the Only Israeli Language

By Ha'aretz

On Tuesday, Knesset member Arieh Eldad (National Union) suggested doing away with Arabic's status as an official language of Israel, angering Arab Knesset members. Hebrew and Arabic are both designated as official languages of Israel. In a proposed law put before the Knesset in honor of Hebrew Language Day, Eldad suggested that only Hebrew would enjoy this status.

One practical effect of the law would be to establish that all street signs must be printed in Hebrew. Under the proposed law, local authorities in areas where most residents do not speak Hebrew would be able to add the population's language to signs to aid comprehension. However, they would not have the right to replace the Hebrew signage with an alternate language.

The proposed law would require Hebrew to be the principal language of study in the education system, and schools would be obligated to ensure that the public understood it. Schools in the Arab sector would, however, be permitted to conduct studies in Arabic.

In a speech explaining the proposed law, Eldad said that it created a clear and proper balance between Hebrew's status as state language, and the interests and needs of the speakers of other languages, including the Arab public. "Eldad lives in a bubble of transfer," MK Issam Makhoul (Hadash-Ta'al) said in a response to the proposed law. "He transfers Arab citizens and their right to speak, and now he wants to transfer Arabic from its status as a second official language." He added that the polish of Eldad's remarks should not be allowed to blur their threatening nature. "This thinking flows from a racist and anti-Arab outlook."

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