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Hizbullah Attacks Israeli Patrol in Border Area, Israeli Warplanes Retaliate

By VOA News

Hizbullah terrorists have staged their first attack in months on Israeli troops in the disputed border area known as Shebaa Farms. Sunday's attack triggered a fierce cross-border artillery duel and retaliatory Israeli air strikes. The United Nations said one of its peacekeepers was killed by Israeli fire, while Israeli says a roadside bomb killed one of its soldiers. The Lebanese Shi'ite militant group also claims to have wounded several others in the bombing. Shebaa Farms was captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Lebanon and Syria say the area is Lebanese territory; the United Nations says it is Israeli-occupied Syrian land. Hizbullah has vowed to continue attacks until Israel leaves the Shebaa Farms area.

Abbas Declares Victory in Election for PA Chairmanship

By Ha'aretz

Palestine Liberation Organization chief Mahmoud Abbas declared victory Sunday in the election for Palestinian Authority chairman and dedicated his victory to Yasir Arafat. "We offer this victory to the soul of the brother, martyr Yasir Arafat and to all Palestinians," Abbas told a jubilant rally of his Fatah party in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "There is a difficult mission ahead to build our state, to achieve security for our people ... to give our prisoners freedom, our fugitives a life in dignity, to reach our goal of an independent state," he said in to hundreds of cheering supporters.

Exit polls released shortly after voting centers closed Sunday evening gave Abbas between 66-70 percent of the vote. Such a margin of victory would give Abbas a clear mandate to renew peace talks with Israel, rein in militants and reform the corruption-riddled Palestinian Authority. Five other chairmanship candidates, ranging from a Marxist ex-guerrilla to an academic under U.S. house arrest on suspicion of funneling funds to Hamas militants, trailed far behind.

An-Najah University in Nablus predicted Abbas, 69, would garner 70.5 percent of the vote, while Mustafa Barghouti, the next main challenger, would get 24.5 percent of the vote. The poll was based on responses of more than 5,000 voters, and has a margin of error of 5 percentage points. A poll conducted by the independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research gave Abbas 66.3 percent of vote, with Barghouti winning 19.7 percent of the vote. The poll was based on responses from about 10,000 voters, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

As the exit polls came through, however, there were increasing concerns of voting fraud during the election. Due to a low voter turn out, the PA relaxed voting regulations, prompting the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the camp of Abbas' leading opponent, human rights activist Mustafa Barghouti, to claim that they may have been widespread voter fraud. Around 5 p.m. Sunday, the Palestinian Central Election Committee extended the voting to 9 p.m. and also allowed Palestinians to vote solely based on their identity cards, without any need to check them against the voter roll or population registry. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights decided to petition the Palestinian High Court against the decision.

Ha'aretz has learned that some voters cast their ballots in areas where they do live. Voters were marked with special ink - but one international observer said that the ink was found to be highly problematic in recent elections in Africa and Afghanistan as it wipes off after an hour or two. The voting went relatively smoothly, though in East Jerusalem there was some initial confusion at the Israeli post offices where East Jerusalem residents were allowed to vote.

Former President Jimmy Carter, one of 800 international monitors of the first Palestinian chairmanship election since 1996, said it appeared Israel was keeping to its promise to ease the passage of Palestinians at military checkpoints. "There is no [Israeli] intimidation I have seen," Carter told reporters after visiting checkpoints near Jerusalem. One of the leaders of the official U.S. observer team, Sen. Joseph R. Biden (D-Delaware), said Sunday morning that the elections appeared "well-organized. This could be an election back in the States so far," he said.

Six Israeli Officers Dismissed Over Mutiny Threat

By Reuters

Israel dismissed six reservist military officers on Sunday for threatening to disobey an order to evacuate Jewish settlements under a Gaza pullout plan, the military said. Generals acted to quell the threat of dissent in military ranks over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to remove Jewish settlements from Gaza and the northern West Bank this year as part of "disengagement" from conflict with the Palestinians.

The six dismissed officers were the highest ranking of a group of 34, all Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, who had a letter published in a newspaper last week terming any order to implement the Gaza plan as illegal. The officers had refused to renounce the letter "and were dismissed" from their command, though they still retained their ranks, a military spokeswoman said. The other signatories would be disciplined at a later time. "The Israeli army regards very seriously every call to refuse an order and any use of rank for political purpose," the spokeswoman said.

Jewish settlement leaders have said thousands of soldiers would refuse to remove more than 8,000 settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank as Sharon plans. Some have circulated petitions against the withdrawal for soldiers to sign. Opinion polls show strong public support in Israel for the plan to quit Gaza, where settlements built on occupied land have come under constant attack in a 4-year-old Palestinian uprising.

Palestinians have welcomed any Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory but worry that Sharon has vowed to hold on to large settlement blocs in the West Bank in any final peace deal.

Army chief Moshe Yaalon had threatened last week to dismiss the officers behind the letter, published only a day after Sharon had visited an army base to condemn calls to disobey pullout orders as a threat to Israel's existence. In Israel, where military service is compulsory for Jewish males and most of the nation's leaders have served, the army is traditionally viewed as a unifying force and threats to its cohesiveness tends to evoke strong emotions. Yaalon reiterated in a statement a standing order barring soldiers from signing petitions or participating in political activities, and warned any doing so would face disciplinary action.

Israel Won't Recognize Pollard as Prisoner of Zion


Jonathan Pollard has been dealt yet another blow. This time, a request to recognize him as an official Prisoner of Zion has been rejected, once again, by the official Prisoners of Zion Authority. The stated reason for the rejection astonished many of those who have been following the Pollard case. "How can we know that he will want to live in Israel upon his release from prison?" the members of the decision-making committee wrote. Pollard, in his frequent letters and messages from prison, has often stated his deep desire to live in Israel.

Pollard is serving his 20th year of a prison sentence in the U.S., for passing classified information to Israel. The information in question was critical to Israel's security, and Israel was entitled to it in accordance with agreements it made with the U.S.

The decision to reject the Prisoner of Zion request was made by an appeals committee of the Prisoners of Zion Authority in the Absorption Ministry. The appeal of a previous rejection was submitted by Israeli inventor Dr. Felix-Azriel Kochubievsky (inventor of a transcranial electro-stimulation apparatus).

The committee noted that one of the criteria for recognition as a Prisoner of Zion is that the candidate must be an Israeli citizen and resident. "No one disputes the fact that Pollard is not an Israeli resident," the committee member states. "It may be claimed that it is only his incarceration that prevents him from being a resident... But this claim, in our opinion, is artificial. Furthermore, how can we know that upon his release he will want to live in Israel, against which his bitterness in light of the above is fairly understandable."

Adi Ginzberg, a leading activist for Pollard's release, told INN's Ruti Avraham in response: "I can't think of a better example than this to depict 'Have you murdered and also inherited?' What the committee is saying is that the fact that Israeli governments betrayed Pollard and their obligations towards him - that's the reason to take away his deserved rights. Furthermore, questioning his desire to live in Israel is totally ridiculous; there is no letter or interview he gives in which he does not express his exclusive desire to move to Israel."

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