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Chabad Anti-Disengagement Rally Broadcast Worldwide


A massive anti-disengagement rally in Jerusalem Thursday night was simultaneously broadcast in Paris, New York and London. Thousands jammed the Jerusalem Convention Center to chant Psalms and hear rabbis call for protests against the plan. Rabbis called on everyone to stand at street intersections throughout the country to hand out material explaining why people should oppose disengagement. They also said that no actions should violate the law. A Chabad spokesman denounced hate slogans that were unfurled during the organization's rally Israeli media reported that right wing extremists attending the rally displayed slogans comparing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Roman dictators who were cruel to Jews.

European Union Drops Plans to Ban Nazi Symbols

By Reuters

The European Union dropped plans to ban Nazi insignia and other symbols, which could incite hatred on Thursday, but agreed to restart talks on harmonizing anti-racism laws. Britain's Prince Harry hit the headlines and caused outrage last month by wearing a swastika armband and a Nazi costume at a fancy dress party, prompting German members of the European Parliament to demand an EU-wide ban on Nazi symbols.

But EU justice and interior ministers meeting in Brussels decided against including such a ban in plans from the European Commission to harmonize national laws to better fight racism and xenophobia, Danish Justice Minister Lene Espersen said "It is better to drop any discussion on that. It does not add any value to the proposals. It would only open a long debate on what symbols it should be."

German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said the decision to drop the idea of a ban was "regrettable" but added the question of insignia was less important than ensuring racism and xenophobia were punished severely across the bloc. "The central issue for us is to ban expressions (of racism)," she told reporters. Germany is the only country in Europe that has banned the use of Nazi insignia. But France, for example, bars the sale of Nazi-related memorabilia.

Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli from the populist Northern League, known for its anti-immigrant rhetoric, reiterated Rome's concerns that the proposals could infringe on freedom of speech. He demanded in public that the ban on symbols be included in the negotiations once the talks reopened, despite the ministers' agreement behind close doors to drop the idea. "I am favorable to reopening the debate," Castelli told Italian reporters. "But there must be no provisions hampering freedom of speech and the question of symbols has to be tackled because it is very important."

Under the stalled 2003 compromise proposals, all EU states would have to make it a crime to incite discrimination, violence or hatred against a person or a group on the basis of race, color, and religion, national or ethnic origin. The proposals also seek to ban "condoning, denial or gross trivialization of crimes of genocide" such as the Holocaust, which killed more than 6 million Jews.

Palestinian Parliament Approves New Government of Reformers and Technocrats

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Ramallah, West Bank)

There was a sigh of relief as lawmakers filed out of the chamber. Days of arguments and political wrangling had come to a successful end, with the confirmation of a new 24-member cabinet under Prime Minister Qureia.

Lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi said the new government might not be perfect, but is a step in the right direction. "To tell the Palestinian people that we are moving on issues of reform, of separation of powers, of institution building, of rule of law, of democracy. That's what we want," said Ashrawi.

Lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Qureia's original list of cabinet appointments, saying they want to see new faces, new names, reformers and not those tainted by corruption. The Legislative Council flexed its political muscle twice rejecting the prime minister's proposed list before his slate was put forward in Thursday's final vote.

The cabinet includes 17 newcomers, almost all experts in their field and with advanced university degrees. The makeup of this new cabinet is seen as a major victory for recently elected President Mahmoud Abbas and his agenda to reform Palestinian political institutions and restart the peace process with the Israelis.

Mohammed Shtayeh served as Abbas' campaign manager and is now Minister of Housing. He told VOA the vote sends a clear message to the people and the government. "It is a message of change, it's a message of hope and the load is on the shoulders of every single minister to deliver serious tangible results."

Other newcomers include Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa, previously the Palestinian U.N. representative and a nephew of Yasir Arafat. Former general Nasser Yousef was appointed interior minister and will be responsible for restructuring the various Palestinian security services. Finance Minister Salam Fayyad retained his post. He had been on the job for several years and is highly respected by the United States and international donors.

Long-time Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat lost his cabinet position, but will continue in the role as negotiator with the Israelis. "It's been very tiring, it's been sleepless nights, but this democracy - Palestinian democracy at birth. These are the labor pains of Palestinian democracy and we should get used to it," he said. The new cabinet is seen as an important step in the Palestinian democratic reform process, but it also likely to serve a relatively short term since parliamentary elections are scheduled for July and could usher in a completely new government.

Freed Terrorist Arrested Again


Yet another released terrorist has been re-arrested by Israeli security forces for involvement in terrorism. The arrested man, Waseem Akab Khalil Mantzur, had been released from an Israeli prison in 2003 after spending less than a year in jail for his involvement in previous shooting attacks.

Since his release, Mantzur has been involved in weapons dealing and various attacks against Israeli targets. The Tanzim faction to which Mantzur belonged has been carrying out its attacks in the Shechem region in coordination with the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, also affiliated with Fatah, and with the Hizbullah terrorist organization.

Mantzur is from the village of Kfar Kalil and was involved in many recent attacks against IDF forces in the vicinity. He was involved in last week's attempted attack on the Jewish community of Bracha, in which another released terrorist, Atzam Mantzur, was killed while planting a bomb. Israel set him free in January 2004 as part of an exchange for kidnapped Israeli Elhanan Tenenbaum and the bodies of three IDF soldiers murdered by Hizbullah.

Despite the attack on Bracha, Israel released the first group of 500 Arab prisoners last week as a "good-will gesture" to provide PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas with an accomplishment he can chalk up to his credit.

Yehudit Dasberg, whose daughter and son-in-law were murdered by terrorists nine years ago, told Arutz-7 that the government disregards the fact that a large percentage of the released terrorists return to murdering Jews. "The government releases terrorist murderers, without examining at all whether the freed terrorists return to killing Jews. We have in our possession dozens of names of Israelis wounded by terrorists who released by Israel in the past." According to Dasberg, Deputy Defense Minister Zev Boim has confirmed that due to lack of budget, the IDF and security services have not carried out any investigation into how many freed terrorists have returned to carrying out attacks.

"We, the families of terror victims, are representing all of Israel's citizens," Dasberg said, "and not just those on the right-wing. It is in everyone's interest not to release terrorists who, in light of past experience, will definitely return to trying to kill Jews. When they say the terrorists being released have no 'blood on their hands,' it just means they weren't successful in killing Jews on their first try. Their desire to continue trying to murder remains. What kind of country will we have with 900 more terrorist murderers roaming freely in our land?"

Dasberg added that when she petitioned the Supreme Court, asking how Israel could continue to arrest criminals when murderers are released, Justice Mishael Heshin told her, "You are bringing claims from the realm of ethics and justice when we are here to discuss law alone."

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