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Israel Offers PA Rail Link Between West Bank and Gaza

By Ha'aretz

Israel has offered the Palestinian Authority a rail line linking the Gaza Strip and West Bank that would enable passage between the two areas after the disengagement. According to the proposal, the tracks would run from the Erez checkpoint in the northern part of the Gaza Strip to the Tarqumiya crossing near the West Bank city of Hebron. The overture to the Palestinians was made by Minister Haim Ramon, who is overseeing talks on the civil and economic coordination of the disengagement, along with Vice Premier Shimon Peres. The Palestinian coordination team insisted that Israel commit to operating the "safe passage" between the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Surge of Violence Threatens Mideast Cease-Fire

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem), Reuters & Ha'aretz

A surge of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is threatening the Mideast cease-fire. The incidents coincided with a diplomatic storm as the British foreign secretary arrived for peace talks.

Tuesday was one of the deadliest days of violence since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a cease-fire four months ago. Gunmen from the Islamic terrorist group Hamas shelled Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip and inside Israel. The barrage killed three non-Israeli workers. Hamas said the attacks were in retaliation for a visit by Israelis to a Jerusalem holy place that is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. "Hamas is trying very hard to undermine our efforts to move toward peace with the Palestinian Authority," said Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

Two of the workers killed in the Ganei Tal Gush Katif settlement were Palestinian and the other was a Chinese national All wounded were Palestinian, two of them sustaining critical wounds and the other four sustaining moderate injuries. They were all evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.

In the West Bank, Israeli forces raided the town of Kabatiya and killed two Palestinians, including Maraweh Ikmil, a local commander of the Islamic Jihad group. The army said he was planning an imminent attack. Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat told VOA that the truce could collapse. "My reaction is that we must retain the quiet and the cessation of violence at any cost, the situation is very dangerous."

The violence coincided with a new peace mission by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. But he shocked his Israeli hosts by disclosing that Britain has held contacts with elected officials from Hamas, which is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Straw insisted that Britain's policy hasn't changed. "And our policy is clear, we will have no dealings with the leadership of Hamas or other such organizations, unless and until they wholly renounce violence and they renounce their charter calling for the destruction of the state of Israel."

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz characterized Tuesday's escalation in Gaza as part of the "internal Palestinian dialogue," telling reporters in Sderot that the army does not yet plan to undertake operations. "I would suggest that as a state we not act like terrorists," Halutz told Channel 2. "Overreacting is not a modus operandi. Nonetheless we must examine all the ramifications of acting against terror organizations. At a certain point, our patience will wear thin, but I would suggest that we decide when."

Halutz hinted at Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' recent decision to postpone parliamentary elections, contrary to agreements he had made with rival Palestinian factions, as the motive behind the latest escalation. "The fact that they are thinking the right things and saying the right things but not doing the rights things says it all."

Sharon Government Threatens to Revoke Parenting Rights of Underage Disengagement Activists

By Ha'aretz

The State Prosecution is considering the use of the Juvenile Law against parents of minors who have been arrested repeatedly for blocking highways, said a senior source at the State Prosecution on Tuesday. Such a move would allow courts to monitor parental supervision of their children and in extreme cases to strip the parents off their guardianship.

Senior officials at the State Prosecution held two meetings with welfare authority officials in order to examine the possibility of using the Juvenile Law against minors whose parents do not prevent them or systematically encourage them to engage in blocking highways. Should such an interpretation of the Juvenile Law be employed those parents would be considered to have encouraged their children to engage in criminal activity.

Under such circumstances welfare workers would be able to request the court to employ various measures, the harshest of which is stripping the minor's parents off their guardianship. This measure is reserved for extreme cases only however. The court may also monitor and instruct parental supervision of such minors.

The initiative came in response to the high number of minors arrested in mass road blockages by anti-disengagement activists three weeks ago. Most of the 409 activists arrested that day in dozens of crossroads across Israel were minors. Out of the 14 activists still in custody, seven are minors.

University of Utah Study Links Genetic Diseases to High Ashkenazi IQs

By Ha'aretz

A team of scientists from the University of Utah suggests a link between genetic diseases found among Ashkenazi Jews and their higher-than-average intelligence. According to the study, to appear in Cambridge University's Journal of Bioscocial Science, the pattern of such diseases among Jews whose families came from central and northern Europe is a product of natural selection for enhanced intellectual ability.

The hypothesis has drawn mixed reactions, with some scientists dismissing it as extremely implausible while others have criticized it as politically incorrect. The Utah team concluded that the selection resulted from the restriction of Jews in medieval Europe to occupations that required more than usual mental agility, The New York Times reported last Friday.

Between 800 and 1,700, Jews in France, Germany, Poland and other European countries were restricted to managerial and commercial occupations, including money lending and tax collection. The study argues that these occupations were intellectually demanding and that those who were successful had more offspring, enhancing the intelligence of the Ashkenazi population.

The researchers note, for example, that while Jews make up 3 percent of the United States population, 27 percent of American Nobel Prize winners have been Ashkenazi Jews. They also say that the rate of genius among Ashkenazi Jews is much higher than among the general population in the north European countries they lived in. According to the study, 23 of 1,000 Ashkenazim have an I.Q. of 140 and higher compared to four of 1,000 north European non-Jews.

The restrictions imposed on Jews in medieval Europe led to the spread of genetic mutations that enhanced intellectual ability. These mutations are also responsible for four genetic diseases characteristic of Ashkenazi Jews, including Tay-Sachs and the Niemann-Pick and Gaucher syndromes, the study said.

"It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is," Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard University told the Times, noting that it argues for the existence of inherited differences in intelligence between groups. However, he said, "It's certainly a thorough and well-argued paper, not one that can easily be dismissed outright."

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