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Israel Allows 16 Palestinian Deportees to Go Home

By VOA News

Israeli officials said they would allow 16 Palestinians who were expelled to the Gaza Strip to return home to the West Bank Friday, in the latest goodwill gesture to the Palestinians. The 16 are the first of an expected 55 to be allowed to return after the Israeli army expelled them for security reasons. Also Thursday, the Israeli army announced that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided to stop the controversial practice of destroying the family homes of Palestinians suspected of carrying out suicide attacks against Israeli targets. The army referred to a study that found the policy did little to deter militant attacks and that it spawned hatred towards Israel in the Palestinian territories.

Bush: Israeli Apprehension Over Iran Justified

By Michael Bowman (VOA-Washington)

President Bush said Thursday that Israel has reason to fear Iran, and that the United States remains committed to ensuring Israel's security At a news conference, Bush was asked about the likelihood of Israel launching a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Bush acknowledged enmity between Israel and Iran's leaders. "They do not like Israel, to put it bluntly," he said.

But the president quickly turned the initial question around. Bush said he believes it is Iran that poses a danger to Israel. "If I was the leader of Israel, and I listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I would be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon, as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and we have made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened." Bush said everyone, Israel included, should be concerned about the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes - to satisfy the country's growing energy needs. But Iran has been criticized for not cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and European diplomatic initiatives have yet to yield an accord governing Iran's nuclear program. Israel fiercely maintains its right to self-defense, even if that means taking pre-emptive action against regional powers. In 1981, Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor.

Bush said the United States will continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the question of Iran's nuclear ambitions, and that the topic would be a high priority when he meets with European leaders next week. "I look forward on this trip to discussing strategies, ways forward with the Europeans, to make sure we continue to speak with one voice. And that is [that] Iran should not have a nuclear weapon. And [we will consider] how to work together to make sure that they do not."

Earlier this week, Iran and Syria announced a pact to confront security threats. Thursday, Iran called on nations throughout the region to join together to defeat what it termed U.S. and Israeli plots.

Abbas Orders Execution of Arabs Accused of Helping Israel


In one of his first policy decisions as head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas has approved death sentences for three Arab men accused of helping Israel.

Gaza governor Sakher Bseso announced earlier this week that Abbas had transferred several cases of people sentenced to death under Yasir Arafat's regime to the Mufti (arbiter of Islamic law) of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri. Abbas then signed the decisions, authorizing PA executioners to carry out the death sentences.

Shurat HaDin - The Israel Law Center condemned the decision, and though the identity of the three men was not released, speculated that the condemned men were most probably Yusef Hassan Sinwar, Muhammad Abu Kainas and his son, Rami Kainas.

Sinwar, 31, was sentenced to hanging by a PA military tribunal in October 2004, after an hour long "trial." He was convicted of assisting the IDF in capturing fugitive terrorists. Abu Kainas and his son were similarly convicted in a Gaza military court of charges that they tipped off the IDF to the whereabouts of Hamas chief Abdel-Aziz Rantisi in June 2003, even though it lead to a failed assassination attempt, and that they also gave away the location of Ra'fat Za'anin, a Hamas leader the IDF successfully killed in 2003. The father and son were displayed to journalists in September 2004 at a police station in Gaza operated by Mohammed Dahlan's PA forces.

Another PA prisoner, Walid Hamdiya, has been on death row since 1995. In October 2002, he was sentenced to death by firing squad. Hamdiya's sentence, however, has not yet been carried out. Several other accused Israeli agents being held in PA prisons are facing capital charges although they have not been "convicted" as of yet. "At a time when Israel is recklessly preparing to release hundreds of dangerous Palestinian terrorists from its jails as a goodwill gesture to Abbas," stated Shurat HaDin Director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, "The Palestinians are reciprocating by carrying out the executions of suspected Israeli agents. Israel must immediately abandon the planned terrorist release and takes steps to stop the death sentences from being implemented."

In August 2002 Shurat HaDin petitioned the Palestinian Authority's Minister of Justice for permission to appear in the Gaza security court to defend another accused Israeli agent, Akram Mohammed al-Zatma, who was charged by the Palestinian preventive security forces with assisting Israeli military forces in their targeted killing of Hamas and Fatah leaders. The PA rejected its request.

In December 2000, Shurat HaDin filed a similar petition with former Justice Minister Freih Abu Meddein on behalf of another accused Palestinian collaborator, Alan Bani-Odeh. Again, Abu Meddein denied the Shurat HaDin request. The next day, a Palestinian security court sentenced Bani-Odeh to death in the course of a 10 minute "trial" during which masked Hamas gunmen roamed the courtroom. Shortly afterwards Bani-Odeh was brought to the public square in Shechem (Nablus) and executed by a PA firing squad.

Even a PA human rights groups joined the condemnation of Abbas. Bassam Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG), said that Abbas' decision to refer the cases to Sabri doesn't bode well for PA democracy. "On the one hand, Abbas talks publicly about democracy, human rights and pluralism; but on the other hand he transfers the names of 51 Palestinians to the mufti, which is against international rules and human rights," Eid said. "I see it like the other side of the same coin that was Arafat."

Arab Billionaire Offers to Buy Evacuated Gaza Settlements

By Ha'aretz

A billionaire from the United Arab Emirates has offered to buy the real estate assets of settlements in the Gaza Strip that are slated for evacuation under the disengagement plan, Channel 2 television news reported on Thursday evening.

Mohammed al-Alabbar, the chairman of a huge real estate company which is quoted in the Dubai stock exchange, arrived on Thursday in Israel as a special visitor of MK Ephraim Sneh (Labor). The two met with Ilan Cohen, director general of the Prime Minister's Office, and later paid a short courtesy visit to Sharon himself.

According to the Channel 2 report, al-Abar offered to purchase the houses, agricultural infrastructure as well as water wells in the Gush Katif settlements for $56 million. Sneh told the TV that "Involvement of this company... gives Israel the option not to destroy the buildings."

Sharon has declared that he intended to demolish houses in the evacuated settlements to avoid victory images of Palestinians in the settlements. Vice Premier Shimon Peres and other sources in the National Security Council have recently urged Sharon to reconsider his position on the matter and leave the houses untouched after the evacuation. The Palestinian Authority has announced it was not interested in the houses since it wished to build new houses on the evacuated areas.

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