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Rain, Snow and Hail in the Holy Land

By Israel National News

Heavy rains, snow and hail fell across Israel Wednesday, with flooding closing many major arteries. Major flooding took place in the Tel Aviv region at major intersections such as HaMasger and La Guardia and the Ben-Gurion and Abba Hillel intersection in Ramat Gan. Shefa Tal ('Abundance of Dew') Street in Givatayim was closed in both directions, also due to flooding. Two women were injured when a concrete wall near the Kiriya on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv collapsed on their car due to the heavy rains. The Hermon ski resort will open its doors to the public this Friday following heavy snowfall in the Golan Heights region.

Israel Resumes Contact with Palestinians

By Benjamin Sand (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel has agreed to hold security talks with Palestinian officials, reversing a total ban on contacts ordered by Israel last week after a deadly attack by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza. Wednesday's decision comes after newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered his security forces in Gaza to crack down on militants launching attacks against Israelis.

Israeli and Palestinian field commanders met Wednesday night to coordinate new security operations in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials said the new security talks do not signal a complete resumption of wider-ranging contacts. Israel has also threatened large-scale military raids in Gaza unless reins in the terrorists.

Under pressure, Abbas spent the past two days trying to craft a ceasefire with militant groups. "What we are trying to do is to reach a Palestinian consensus to go to the Israelis and the world with," said Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath. Some Palestinian officials said Abbas was nearing a deal with the militants to accept a truce. However, there is no word from the armed groups that they are ready to lay down their weapons.

The top Palestinian security officer in Gaza and the West Bank, Abdel-Razek al Majaide, said Wednesday Palestinian security forces would be deployed along parts of the Gaza border with Israel to prevent militant attacks. But Palestinian officials also said that any ceasefire or internal crack down against the militants could be successful only as long as Israel also respects the ceasefire and halts its military operations.

Ending Militant Attacks on Israel Key Challenge for Abbas

By André de Nesnera (VOA-Washington)

Mahmoud Abbas, the newly elected president of the Palestinian Authority, has to tackle several major issues in order to raise hopes for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Experts on Middle Eastern affairs say Abbas faces enormous internal and external challenges in the weeks and months ahead. These include fighting corruption, improving the economic well being of the Palestinians, reforming the security apparatus, not to mention relations with Israel.

But analysts say Abbas faces an even greater test: how to deal with extremist groups such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Islamic Jihad and the largest group, Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. All three are on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

Walter Reich, Middle East expert at George Washington University, says Hamas' aim is clear: "Hamas has absolutely no hesitation to say our [their] goal is the end of Israel. There should be no Israel and that Palestine, when we talk about Palestine, we're talking about the whole area from the river, namely the Jordan River, to the sea, the Mediterranean," he said. "There is no place for Israel. And we're going to get rid of it one way or the other, no matter how long it takes. And we're going to continue fighting. We're going to continue doing whatever we can and in whatever way we can to blow up Israelis wherever they may be: whether they're in the West bank, whether they're in Gaza, whether they're in Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem, or Haifa or wherever."

Many analysts say that goal is diametrically opposed to Abbas' vision. One of those experts is Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. He says the new Palestinian leader believes the years of militant attacks on Israel have hurt his people's cause.

"Mahmoud Abbas believes that the militarization of the intifada four years ago has done a great deal of damage, not only to the Palestinian cause and society, but even to the moral compass of the Palestinians. He believes that the armed struggle does not take the Palestinians too far and as such, there is an urgent need for a new paradigm, a paradigm based on negotiations, based on bargaining, on coalition building, on appealing to at least the unity and empathy of the international public opinion, including European and American public opinion."

The Israeli government has called on Abbas to crack down on terrorist groups. In the past few days, Islamic militants claimed responsibility for rocket attacks and a suicide bombing against Israeli targets. Israeli leaders have said their patience is running out: a reference to possible major military action in the Gaza strip. Following the recent attacks, a senior Palestinian commander said militant groups would deploy security forces in Gaza to try to prevent attacks.

Nathan Brown, a Middle East expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington D.C. research organization, says there are two ways Abbas could stop attacks by extremist elements: "One is through brute force and the other is by trying to talk these groups out of it. Mahmoud Abbas has made clear that he doesn't want to use brute force; he doesn't think he has the ability and he doesn't think it would stick. He doesn't have the political will to do it and for whatever reason he is not going to follow that path. Instead, he is going to try to talk them into a ceasefire."

Hamas and other militant groups have said they would consider a ceasefire only if Israel agrees to stop its raids on Palestinian areas and ends its targeted killings of wanted Palestinians. Israel has rejected those demands.

Israeli Research Prescribes Pets


Israeli researchers have found that therapy-involving pets can help people suffering from schizophrenia increase their motivation and improve their quality of life. A research team at Haifa's Technion Institute of Technology has examined the effect of bringing pets into therapy sessions. Patients who brought dogs into their therapy sessions turned out to be much less apathetic, compared with those undergoing conventional therapy.

The research team looked at the phenomenon of anhedonia, which is the inability to gain pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences - a major factor in schizophrenia. The researchers compared 10 schizophrenic patients who underwent animal-assisted therapy with 10 who were given non-animal therapy over a 10-week period.

The group who were given pet therapy showed a significant improvement in the hedonic tone (sensation of pleasantness) compared to the other group. They were also seen to show an improvement in the use of leisure time and a trend towards improvement in motivation. The study, reported by Israel21c, was recently published in the Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics journal.

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