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Israeli-Palestinian Talks Aim to Seal Security Deal

By VOA News

Top Israeli and Palestinian security officials are meeting to work out a deal for Israel to hand over security control of several West Bank towns to the Palestinian Authority. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Mohammed Dahlan began their talks hours after Palestinians say Israeli military gunfire killed a schoolgirl in the Gaza Strip. Israel is probing the Monday incident, which triggered Palestinian mortar fire into an Israeli settlement near the school where the girl died. No Israeli casualties were reported. A short time later, Hamas and other militant groups said they would stick to their pledge to stop attacks on Israelis if the Israeli army does not launch offensive operations.

Rice Hails Fundamental Choices by Israel and Palestinians

By David Gollust (VOA-Washington)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Israel and the Palestinians are beginning to make good fundamental choices, putting progress on the Middle East peace road map within reach. Rice met a senior Israeli envoy Monday in preparation for her first foreign trip since taking office, which begins later this week and includes talks in Israel and the West Bank.

Rice said a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would still require a great deal of work. But she said she was encouraged by recent steps by the two sides toward a renewal of peace efforts, and said she thinks progress on the road map to a settlement is "in our grasp."

The new secretary of state made the comments at a get-acquainted, town hall meeting with staff members on her third day on the job at the State Department. She said she thinks that parties are beginning to be responsive to the June 2002 challenge by President Bush for the Palestinians to end terrorism and build democratic institutions through new leadership, and for the Israelis to create conditions in which a Palestinian state, on contiguous land, can emerge.

"The good thing about the last couple of months has been that I think you are starting to see the parties make good fundamental choices," she said. "And as they make those good fundamental choices, it opens up the possibility of getting back on the Road Map toward a two-state solution. I don't think any of us doubt that without a Palestinian state that is viable, that can represent the aspirations of the Palestinian people, that there really isn't going to be a peace for either the Palestinian people, or for the Israelis."

The new Secretary of State begins her first foreign trip, an eight-day mission to Europe and the Middle East, starting Thursday. She is due to arrive in Israel Sunday and will hold talks with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials in Jerusalem and the West Bank the following day. Rice met privately at the State Department Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief-of-staff, Dov Weisglass. They had met frequently last year at the White House when Rice was Bush's National Security Adviser, as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was preparing his initiative for Israeli disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

Israeli Ambassador to Washington Daniel Ayalon told reporters that Weisglass would stress the importance of expanding Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation, evident during the Palestinian elections in January, in advance of the planned Gaza withdrawal.

Training to Expel Jews


A Border Guard police base near Beit Horon in the Binyamin region - northwest of Jerusalem - is being turned into an expulsion training school. Thousands of Border Guardsmen will be trained there to carry out the mission of removing close to 9,000 Jews from their homes in northern Samaria and Gush Katif.

The training course includes breaking into houses, isolating homes in which opponents of the plan have holed themselves up, and dealing with those inside. Destroying buildings and arresting groups of resisters are also featured in the course. The trainees will take breaks from their physical training with lectures and workshops on democracy, refusal, civil rights and the like. No fewer than 18,000 policemen will take the course in the coming months.

At the same time, some withdrawal opponents are stepping up their efforts to encourage policemen and soldiers to refuse orders to expel Jews from their homes in the Land of Israel. Over 10,000 soldiers and policemen have already signed their commitment not to fulfill orders. Police and Border Guard officials said that refusers would be fired outright, while those who fulfill the orders would receive a pay raise.

At least one commanding officer, in a recent letter accompanying a reserves call-up notice to his soldiers, noted prominently that the tour of duty does not include missions related to the disengagement/expulsion. In the apparent fear that soldiers might not want to show up for duty, the commander wrote, "The dates of active duty do not correlate to the expected dates for the disengagement, such that dilemmas regarding this matter are not relevant."

Posters at Sunday night's giant anti-disengagement rally showed a picture of a soldier about to enter a Yesha home, greeted by a sad-faced family of young parents and several children standing in apprehension at the door. The caption reads, "Commander, I can't do it."

Knesset to Honor Raoul Wallenberg


The Knesset will mark the 60th anniversary of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg, who saved 100,000 Jews from the Nazis, with a special session on Tuesday. Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat in the early 1940s who is credited with saving more than 100,000 Hungarian Jews by granting them visas and removing them from German deportations to the death camps. On Jan. 17, 1945, he was invited to meet with the Russians, who promptly arrested him; he was never seen again in the outside world.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is married to Wallenberg's niece, who visited Israel in March 1998. Then-MK Alex Lubotsky showed her around, and later said, "I wanted to show my great appreciation for her uncle's activities. She was visibly moved by this, and when I told her of the many streets named after him in Israel and the like, she was excited to learn that her uncle was so recognized and appreciated in Israel."

Many feel, however, that Israel did not quite do enough to show its appreciation. Eli Joseph of Maaleh Adumim, a long-time "concerned citizen" on behalf of both Wallenberg and Jonathan Pollard, is one of the driving forces behind Tuesday's Knesset session. "It's a disgrace that more is not done for people who did so much for the People of Israel," Joseph said. "I'm talking about the 60-year abandonment of Wallenberg, and the 19-year abandonment of Jonathan Pollard." When Wallenberg's half-brother came to Israel several years ago, "not one Knesset Member or government official agreed to meet with him... I pleaded with them, saying that he saved 100,000 Jews - but in vain..."

Ethiopia's Jewish Community to be Brought to Israel by the End of 2007

By Ha'aretz

The last 20,000 Falashmura who are eligible to immigrate to Israel will be brought here by the end of 2007, the government decided Monday. To achieve this aim, the rate of immigration from Ethiopia will be doubled as of June 1, 2005, from 300 people a month to 600.

The decision was made at a meeting between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz, Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni and Jewish Agency Chairman Salai Meridor. It instructs the Interior Ministry to finish determining within two months which of the Falashmura currently waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia are eligible to come here, and for this purpose, authorizes an increase in the ministry's staff in Ethiopia.

It also instructs the relevant ministries to prepare a detailed plan for the Falashmura's immigration and absorption within three months. Sharon said that the Finance Ministry would allocate the necessary funds.

The transit camps, located in Addis Ababa and Gondar, are currently run by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry in conjunction with the local communities. Under the government plan, NACOEJ would transfer responsibility for the camps to the Jewish Agency in approximately September 2005. The agency and NACOEJ signed an agreement to this effect on Sunday.

In February 2003, the cabinet decided that Israel would take in all Falashmura - Ethiopians who claim that they were forced to convert from Judaism - who are of Jewish descent on the mother's side. The vast majority of the Falashmura in the camps are thought to meet this criterion. The Interior Ministry has, however, been conducting the eligibility checks very slowly, and former interior minister Avraham Poraz decided that until the checks were completed, only 300 Falashmura per month would be permitted to immigrate.

That decision outraged both the Israeli Ethiopian community and many American Jewish organizations, and both put heavy pressure on the government to speed up the Falashmura's immigration. Both groups welcomed the government's decision Monday.

Several thousand members of the Falashmura community demonstrated outside the Prime Minister's Office during the meeting, demanding the end of the monthly immigration quota and implementation of the government's February 2003 decision.

Livni, who in the past opposed speeding up the Falashmura's immigration because of the expense of absorbing them, said that the great achievement of Monday's decision was the treasury's pledge to cover the absorption costs. According to Jewish Agency spokesman Michael Jankelowitz, it costs the state an average of about $100,000 to bring over and settle each Falashmura. Among other benefits, Ethiopian immigrants are entitled to housing grants that cover up to 90 percent of the purchase price of an apartment.

In addition, the Interior Ministry has long worried that the Falashmura would prove a "bottomless pit," with every batch that leaves the transit camps for Israel immediately being replaced by new claimants. The Jewish Agency's takeover of the camps is meant to alleviate that fear: It will ensure that new claimants do not enter the camps, and that the camps are shut down once the current batch of Falashmura has immigrated. But Jewish Agency officials acknowledged Monday that the agency still lacks the funds needed to run the transit camps. They said it will probably solicit funds from international Jewry for this purpose.

Upon arrival in Israel, the Falashmura undergo conversion to Israel, after which they are entitled to all the benefits of new immigrants under the Law of Return.

OU Declares War on Kiddush Clubs


The Orthodox Union has called on its synagogues across North America to set aside the Feb. 5th Sabbath service - Parshat Mishpatim - to fight the phenomenon known as "Kiddush clubs." To participate in the Kiddush Club, a group of congregants leave the service to make Kiddush -- often on hard liquor -- during the haftarah reading.

The OU Board of Directors convened in Los Angeles recently and overwhelmingly approved a statement calling for an end to Kiddush Clubs. The Kiddush Club challenges the sanctity of the synagogue in multiple ways. The OU pointed out that the synagogue serves as a mikdash me'at (literally a miniature Holy Temple) - a place for prayer and kedusha (sanctity). "Any behavior that detracts from the kedushat beit haknesset (the holiness of the House of Prayer) is insulting to the entire congregation," declared OU President Stephen J. Savitsky.

Moreover, missing the haftarah reading leaves a void in the service for Kiddush Club participants. "The haftarah," explained OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, "is the one opportunity during the Sabbath prayers to encounter the message of the Prophets."

Besides denigrating the Sabbath prayer service, "these clubs also have a harmful influence on young people because of the clubs' idealization of alcohol," Weinreb emphasized. "This is particularly disturbing because it is emblematic of the larger dangers of alcohol consumption and substance abuse in our community."

Nevertheless, he cautioned, it is important to consider the issue of Kiddush Clubs in the appropriate context, in recognition that OU synagogues overwhelmingly are houses devoted to prayer and study, with deep religious feeling; that the number of prayer services (minyanim) within each synagogue are growing, so that on a given Sabbath there may be multiple services taking place simultaneously; that advanced study takes place daily; and that programs for children, teens and adults are held with large attendance. "Kiddush clubs are in a minority of Orthodox synagogues and the people who attend them are a minority within that minority," Weinreb said, adding, "Kiddush clubs are an aberration from the atmosphere of kedusha so prominent in our synagogues."

Israeli Company Produces Fingertip Coronary Test


A new device, developed in Israel, can detect coronary disease through a convenient, non-invasive fingertip test. The Endo-PAT 2000, developed by Itamar Medical in Caesarea, assesses vascular endothelial dysfunction, an early indicator of atherosclerosis.

The Endo-Pat 2000 System consists of three components. Peripheral Arterial Tonometry (PAT) signals are obtained using two disposable probes placed on fingers of the individual being tested. A portable unit connects to and operates the probes, and signal analysis and the endothelial dysfunction report are generated via a laptop computer. Endothelial dysfunction assessments can be completed in a 20-minute office visit.

Distributed in the United States by the Cholestech Corporation, the new device is the only one to have received clearance from the Food & Drug Administration for this use. FDA clearance was obtained after it was shown that the Endo-Pat 2000 System is equivalent with an invasive procedure that assessed endothelial dysfunction in coronary arteries. Cholestech expects to launch the Endo-PAT 2000 for broad clinical use in 2005.

"This test is a noninvasive and easy-to-perform technique to assess peripheral endothelial function that has the potential to become a valuable tool for cardiovascular risk stratification in daily clinical practice," said Amir Lerman, M.D., F.A.C.C., a cardiologist from Mayo Clinic. "All of the currently available tests for the assessment of endothelial function are more or less invasive or operator-dependent, which precludes their use as a screening tool in clinical practice. In contrast, the Endo-PAT is noninvasive, easy to perform and operator independent. We found a strong correlation, and that the fingertip test was very sensitive in identifying patients with early heart disease."

Itamar Medical, established in 1997, is headquartered in Caesarea, Israel and has an office in Boston, MA. The company is a pioneer in introducing to the medical community non-invasive windows to the autonomic nervous system and arterial health.

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