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Jewish soldiers in Iraq Get Pesach Food

By Ha'aretz

The U.S. Defense Department will be providing Jewish GIs with kosher K-rations this Pesach throughout the holiday. Thousands of packages containing kosher for Pesach MREs (meals ready to eat) have already reached Army and Navy supply bases, with special shipments aimed at Jewish troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each kit contains 24 MREs, enough for three meals a day for the eight days celebrated in the Diaspora. The Jewish Welfare Board's Jewish Chaplains Council is supplying them. The JCC estimates that the number of Jews stationed in Iraq is between 500 and 600, including eight chaplains.

Israel Vows to Keep Large Areas of West Bank

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel has vowed to retain control of vast areas of the West Bank. The declaration came as a Palestinian attack on Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip rattled the Mideast cease-fire.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has vowed that Israel will hold on to large West Bank settlements in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians. "The major settlement blocs will be a part of Israel," Sharon told Israel Radio in an interview before the Passover holiday. He said hundreds of homes are being built in these settlements with the aim of attaching them to Israel.

Sharon's remarks come just 10 days after he received a sharp face-to-face rebuke from President Bush, who told him that settlement expansion violates the internationally backed "road map" peace plan. "We hope that Prime Minister Sharon will heed President Bush's call to have a full cessation of settlement activities," said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

A Palestinian attack on an Israeli border patrol in the Gaza Strip put further strain on the peace process and the fragile two-and-a-half-month old cease-fire. The army said Palestinian militants detonated a roadside bomb, wounding one soldier.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has approved a proposal to delay a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip by three weeks, clearing the way for top officials to make a final decision on the plan. Mofaz previously had sent mixed signals about delaying the pullout from July 20 until after August 14, when an annual Jewish mourning period ends. But he accepted the delay at a meeting with top officials Thursday.

Sharon told reporters the Gaza pullout would go forward, but vowed to build more housing in the West Bank. The United States has repeatedly said that such construction violates the internationally backed peace plan known as the "road map."

Israel is also concerned about terrorism from Syria. In his interview, Sharon warned that Russia's plan to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Syria is a danger to Israel and a threat to regional stability. Israel is concerned, Sharon said, that shoulder fired missiles could wind up in the hands of terrorist organizations. He said he would bring up the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will visit Israel next week.

IDF Fears Soldiers to Disobey Orders


The IDF plans to embed army lawyers into units during the planned evacuation of Jewish residents in Gaza and northern Samarian this summer. Army officials also are worried that soldiers will resort to violence and thievery.

A legal advisor will accompany every brigade commander, who can turn to the counsel for advice if soldiers do not carry out orders. The IDF also is considering a plan to use the military courts near Gaza and northern Samaria as offices where charges can be placed and soldiers can be put on trial. Besides insubordination, IDF officials also fear that soldiers may try to steal after forcing residents out of their homes.

Sharon Expresses Concerns about Russia's Missile Sales to Syria

By VOA News

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has expressed concern that Russian anti-aircraft missiles being sold to Syria could fall into the hands of terrorist groups. However, in an interview with Israeli radio broadcast Thursday, Sharon acknowledged that Israel couldn't intervene in Russian weapons sales to other countries.

Russia has assured Israel the missiles in question are defensive and vehicle-mounted, and that they could not be converted to shoulder-launched models.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli television Wednesday the SA-18 missiles in Syria would "of course make it difficult to fly over the residence of the Syrian president." Two years ago, Israeli warplanes flew over President Hafez al-Assad's palace in Damascus, apparently to warn that he must rein in terrorist groups based in Syria.

Putin will arrive in for a two-day Israel next Wednesday. The visit will be followed by talks on April 29 with Palestinian leaders.

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas invited Putin as part of an attempt to bolster his position in the government and gain an ally in negotiations with Israel. Several Abbas opponents charge that Russia prefers a closer relationship with Israel, which in turn has expressed fears that Syrian terrorists will receive weapons that Russian selling to Damascus.

Security officers for Putin ordered $10,000 worth of sophisticated locking devices from the Israel-based MultiLock Company, for installation in Putin's Moscow residence. The Russian president's house is to be secured with 60 MultiLock devices, after Russian security officials examined many competing proposals for the operation.

Sources at MultiLock, based in Yavneh, explained that the system sold to Russia includes a lock integrated with a sophisticated electromechanical safety-catch mechanism, which includes an electronic combination secured with cutting-edge encoding.

Chief of Staff: Israeli Media Shallow, Ignorant and Unethical


IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon attacked Israel's media Wednesday, calling its members "shallow, ignorant, unethical and beholden to manipulative foreign interests."

Ya'alon made his statements during a lecture on the relationship between the media and the military at Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva. "We have turned into the State of [media] 'Spin'," Ya'alon said. The Chief of Staff said specifically that there was a very wide gap between how the IDF is portrayed by Israel's media and how it is seen by the public.

As an example of the extent of the problem, Ya'alon cited a personal experience with unethical journalism. "A short time ago I had a discussion with eight reporters," he said. "The next day, the headlines in the paper [reading 'Ya'alon: We Won the Intifada'] were completely false, written by a reporter who wasn't even there."

Ya'alon said he said nothing of the sort at the meeting and that ever since the blaring headlines he has been repeatedly quoted as though he made such a statement. "Worse," Ya'alon added, "none of the journalists who actually took part in the discussion criticized the headline - in order to protect their colleague."

The Chief of Staff also spoke about the IDF's shifting ability to cope with the international media. He said a major improvement in the army's ability to speedily counter Arab propaganda with facts was one of the major accomplishments in recent years. He also said that media relations are now taught in every army command course, and those officers are now taught how to present themselves on television.

Ya'alon even admitted that military decisions now take into consideration the media when they embark on security operations. "If we have a choice to use a tank in the daytime or nighttime we would rather use it at night, so that it can't be filmed," Ya'alon said.

The IDF army chief also confirmed at the meeting what had been posited by many independent journalists and researchers: The death of Muhammad al-Dura, the Arab boy shot in his father's arms and shown on TV screens across the world at the beginning of the Oslo War, was not caused by the IDF. "We know one hundred percent that he was not hit by IDF gunfire," Ya'alon said. "He was apparently shot by a Palestinian Authority police officer."

Pollard Claims Israel Wants Him Dead


Jonathan Pollard charged that the Israeli government wants "to bury" him and that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon twice has refused to deliver to President George W. Bush a letter signed by 112 Knesset members calling for his release from prison.

Pollard is serving a life sentence for passing intelligence information to Israel. He told the Makor Rishon Hebrew weekly that in 1995 a Mossad representative suggested to him that he commit suicide. Pollard was an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy and began to pass information to Israel in 1984. He was arrested the following year.

Pollard's wife Esther has written an open letter to President Bush, asking him to release her husband in time for Passover as a matter of simple justice. "We are approaching the eve of Passover, the Holiday of Freedom for the Jewish people. I am writing to ask you to release my husband, Jonathan Pollard. Jonathan is completing his 20th year of a life sentence in an American prison for his activities on behalf of Israel."

Mrs. Pollard then notes the unique aspects of her husband's case, notably the fact that he is "in his 20th year of a life sentence for an offense which carries a median sentence of 2 to 4 years," that he is the only person in the history of the United States to receive a life sentence for spying for an ally," and that he "received his life sentence without benefit of trial, [but rather] as the result of a plea bargain which he honored and the government abrogated."

She wrote that he was never indicted for harming the United States, nor for compromising codes, agents or war plans. On the other hand, his is "the only espionage case in which then-Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger personally intervened to influence the court."

Mrs. Pollard explained that Weinberger "delivered a memorandum to the sentencing judge, falsely accusing Jonathan of treason - a crime he was never accused of nor indicted for - and called for the maximum sentence of life. Since Jonathan was sentenced in 1987, neither he nor his security-cleared attorneys have ever been permitted to access the Weinberger document to challenge the lies it contains in a court of law. Jonathan is still not permitted to access the document - even though Weinberger himself admitted in a 2002 interview that the case against Jonathan Pollard was actually 'a small matter' and that it had been blown up and 'made far bigger than its actual importance.'"

She wrote that as her husband enjoys support "across the broadest possible social and political spectrum" in Israel, it would be most fitting "if Jonathan were home in Jerusalem in time for the first night of Passover - a holiday that marks the liberation of the Jewish nation from bondage. Releasing my husband would be a credit to your honor and a blessing for both America and Israel."

She had criticism of Prime Minister Sharon for not even mentioning the issue during his meeting with Bush in Texas last week, for not having given the president a Knesset petition signed by 112 MKs asking for Pollard's release, and for not giving him the letter signed by all the chief rabbis of Israel, past and present, asking for Jonathan's release as a gesture for Passover.

Mrs. Pollard also criticized American justice. Quoting a new book by the former Special Envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross, she states that U.S. officials acknowledge that Jonathan deserves to be free as a matter of simple justice, but refuse to release him because he is too valuable as a bargaining chip against Israel.

"Mr. President, this deplorable situation has to stop," concludes Mrs. Pollard. "Jonathan is not a bargaining chip, or a carrot on a stick. He is a flesh-and-blood human being who has served a very, very long and harsh sentence for the offense he committed. Both U.S. and Israeli officials are now simply holding him hostage for political exploitation - each for their own motives. I am appealing to you as a God-fearing man to answer positively the appeals of 112 Knesset Members, all the chief rabbis of Israel and all the people of Israel by releasing my husband, Jonathan Pollard... in time for Passover in Jerusalem."

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