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500 Terrorists to Be Released by Israel on Monday


IDF and Israel Prison Authority officials announced that 500 Arab terrorists would be released Monday, the result of renewed diplomatic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Cabinet approved the release, which according to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and other senior government officials would include only those terrorists who did not have "blood on their hands."

Cabinet Votes: 25 Communities to be Destroyed in Gaza, West Bank

By & Ha'aretz

The Israeli Cabinet has given final go-ahead for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and small portions of the West Bank, by voting 17-5 for the disengagement plan. The orders are to take effect five months from now, on July 20, making it illegal for any Israelis to remain in these areas after that date. The Cabinet also endorsed a new route for part of Israel's controversial security barrier in the West Bank.

Sharon convened the session, saying it was neither an easy nor a happy day as the ministers faced the decision before them. Sharon, once one of the strongest champions of the settler movement, asked his ministers to approve the evacuation of all settlements from Gaza and four small ones from the northern West Bank.

Speaking later Sunday before American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, Sharon said, "Israel has taken a step that will be decisive for its future ... the right one to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state." He said it proved Israel's readiness to take "painful steps ... to make peace." Sharon also said the decision to support disengagement was the most difficult decision he had ever made.

While opinion polls show that the majority of Israelis support his controversial plan, settlers and their backers are marshaling whatever forces they can to oppose the plan. It has taken some fancy political maneuvering by Sharon, including forming a new coalition government with the opposition Labor Party in order to garner enough support for the plan to move ahead.

Labor Party minister Haim Ramon called the Cabinet session historic. Ramon said the decision, while painful, is vital to the survival of the State of Israel. He said this is the beginning of the end of Israeli occupation of about three million Palestinians and means Israel can once again be a genuine democratic Jewish state.

While Labor favors disengagement, some members of Sharon's own Likud Party oppose it. Health Minister Danny Naveh is one of them. Naveh said the government has not been convincing enough that disengagement is really necessary for the security of the country. He said he couldn't see enough reason to uproot more than 8,500 Israeli men, women, and children from places where many of them have lived for the past 30 years.

Last Wednesday, the Israeli parliament approved a plan to compensate the settlers who would be evacuated. Now, the Cabinet is to clear the way for formal notification of the settlers and for finalizing the timetable for the withdrawal.

The other major issue was the endorsement of a new route for the southern portion of Israel's controversial security barrier in and around the West Bank. The latest route would run closer to Israel's old boundary with the West Bank, but would still encompass several major settlements and include six to eight percent of Palestinian land on the Israeli side of the barrier. Israel has said the barrier is necessary to keep out terrorists, but Palestinians will see even this revised route as confirmation that Israel simply wants to grab as much Palestinian land as possible.

Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in what many analysts view as a shrewd political move, voted against the disengagement today. Netanyahu has changed his position several times on this matter. Last May, he announced that he was against the disengagement, in keeping with the results of the Likud Party referendum. A month later, however, he voted in the Cabinet in favor of a "compromise" proposal - which was different than that which the Likud voters rejected only in that it divided the disengagement into four parts.

On October 25 of last year, when the Knesset voted on the first reading of the disengagement bill, Netanyahu implied that he would not vote in favor of the bill, and even absented himself from the plenum on the first roll call - but in the end, voted in favor. He then announced that he would resign from the government in two weeks if Sharon did not agree to a national referendum. In November, he retracted this ultimatum and remained in the government. Last week, he voted with the government on all aspects of the Evacuation/Compensation Law - and today, as noted, he voted against.

It is widely assumed that Netanyahu wishes to place himself in right-wing position in time for the next Likud election for party leader. Netanyahu said that his vote against the plan is not a personal statement against Sharon. He said that when Sharon was a minister in the Netanyahu government, "he sometimes voted against my polices, and that's acceptable." Netanyahu explained that his nay vote Sunday stemmed from the fact that a referendum was not being held.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas assured Israelis in an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel that the evacuation would not take place under fire. "The people will throw flowers on the Israelis, not stones." He added he understands Israel's security needs. "They are people like us. They want to live in peace and security within their borders." Meanwhile, Hamas claimed victory, calling the decision to dismantle settlements the "fruit of Palestinian resistance," Reuters reported.

Residents File High Court Suit Against Expulsion Plan


The first of several expected lawsuits against the disengagement has been submitted to the Supreme Court. It charges that the expulsion violates their basic civil rights, without legal basis. The Gaza Coast Regional Council and two couples living in the areas to be evacuated filed a suit claiming that the newly passed disengagement law stands in opposition to the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. The Supreme Court has required the government to respond to the claims within 30 days.

The Knesset passed the Evacuation/Compensation Law on Wednesday by a 59-40 margin - two votes short of the absolute majority of 61 required, according to the petitioners. They state that the Basic Law on Freedom of Occupation includes a clause that any other Knesset law that infringes upon it must be approved by at least 61 MKs. They said that the same applies to any law that infringes on other basic rights - such as their right to human dignity and freedom, as stipulated in another Basic Law.

Cool, Smooth Schwartz is Channel 2 'Ambassador'

By Ha'aretz

The winner of Channel 2's reality TV show, "The Ambassador," announced Sunday night, is Eytan Schwartz, 30. Before the results were declared, the Jewish Agency said it was planning to offer Ethiopian-born contestant Mehereta Baruch, 30, a position as a representative of the organization.

The feeling among the large audience of family members and fans at the final show - taped at Ben-Gurion International Airport - seemed to believe that Schwartz was sure to lose. He was too professional, too smooth. The favorite alternated between Zvicka Deutch, 26, the charming, yarmulke-wearing chemistry student from the Negev, and Baruch, the beautiful new immigrant.

But two of the three judges, Ya'akov Peri and Rina Matzliach, voted for Schwartz precisely because of his professional manner, smoothness and, above all, control and ability to succeed in that most important of all arenas: the media. The third judge, Nahman Shai, however, voted for Baruch, who he said would be "surprising and would win sympathy." The Jewish Agency is reportedly considering offering Baruch a position to help raise funds to bring the Falashmura to Israel.

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