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Israel Reportedly Building Sea Barrier Near Gaza Coast

By VOA News

Israeli media say the navy is building an underwater barrier off the coast of northern Gaza to stop potential Palestinian infiltrators. The Jerusalem Post quotes Israeli military officials as saying the barrier will stretch 950 meters into the sea from Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. The report says the first 150 meters will consist of cement pilings buried into the sandy bottom while the remaining 800 meters will be formed by a floating fence. The structure is designed to stop Gaza-based militants from swimming to the Israeli coast once Israel pulls out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank. Israel is also building a land barrier along the West Bank.

Are Iran-Israel Ties Coming?


Could Iran be on the road to re-establishing ties with Israel? According to at least one Iranian law professor, the answer is yes. Prof. Nameth Ahmadi is a professor of law at the University of Tehran. He is also an advisor to the favorite to win Iran's presidency, Ali Ahbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. While he is under no illusions about the conservative's power in his country, he does not rule out future diplomatic relations with Israel.

"As long as Iran remains an Islamic Republic, there is no chance (of renewing ties with Israel). But you've got to remember - while the government is fostering ties with the Arab world, most Persians hate the Arabs," he said. "When Iran becomes a republic we will renew ties with Israel. In the past, relations between our countries were excellent, and I believe they will be again."

Ahmadi bases his belief on the fact that most Iranian young people - a majority of the population - as well as most women, no longer want to live under Islamic law. "The mullahs will continue to control religious institutions. But there will be complete separation of church and state," he says. "It won't happen today or tomorrow, but it will happen eventually."

While Ahmadi's comments are likely to anger the Iranian regime, he is unlikely to be deterred from speaking out. He was sentenced to two years in prison for denouncing the Shah in the 1970s, and following the 1979 Islamic revolution he was jailed by the late Ayatollah Khomeini for organizing anti-government rallies and activities. Today, nearly 20 years later, he is again speaking out to predict the mullah's downfall. "Changes in Iran will happen very slowly, but they will surely happen," he says.

Rice, Sharon Hail Gaza Pullout as Key to Middle East Peace

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem) &

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has concluded a two-day peace mission to Jerusalem and the West Bank. Rice held talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, after meeting Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah Saturday. She said both leaders agreed to coordinate Israel's planned pullout from Gaza, which is due to begin in just two months. "Israel and the Palestinian Authority share a commitment to ensure that 'disengagement' happens smoothly, without violence," said Rice.

Under Sharon's disengagement plan, 21 Gaza settlements will be dismantled, and more than 8,000 settlers removed from their homes. Rice told a Jerusalem news conference that the pullout could give a boost to the internationally backed "roadmap" peace plan "toward realizing the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security."

Both sides also agreed that the homes in the Gaza settlements would be destroyed. "You have 1,200 plus houses, you have a population of 1.3 million Palestinians, and, I think, that the view is that there are better land use opportunities," said Rice. The aim is to replace the settler homes with high-rise apartments to ease the Palestinian housing shortage.

Sharon said the disengagement could energize the peace process, but he said that depends on the Palestinians keeping their commitments under the "roadmap." The Palestinians must stop terror and violence, and disarm terrorist groups," Sharon said. But President Abbas is reluctant, saying confronting the militants could lead to civil war. So, Israel wonders if Abbas can deliver. Just before Rice announced plans for a peaceful withdrawal, Palestinian gunmen from the Islamic Jihad group killed an Israeli soldier and wounded two others in a Gaza ambush.

Rice told the media, "Israel and the Palestinian Authority agree that the settler homes of Gaza should be removed. Therefore parties will work toward a plan for destruction and clean-up." She added that both Israel and the PA would be cooperating on the destruction plan. "The view is that there are better land use possibilities for the Palestinians that can better address their housing needs. The PA is preparing a master plan for the construction in the region to match the needs of the Gaza population, and for the buildings that remain to be used for the Palestinians' welfare... There are some 2,000 [Gush Katif] homes, while the Palestinians need housing solutions for 1.3 million people."

This number is of course a wild exaggeration, as the vast majority of the Arab population in Gaza lives in normal apartments in Gaza City, Khan Yunis and other cities. Even according to PA figures, only 1/3 of the population lives in UN-funded refugee camps. The "1.3 million" total figure is also overstated; a recent survey by Bennett Zimmerman, historian Dr. Roberta Seid and Dr. Michael Wise found that the total Arab population in Gaza in January 2004 was 1.07 million.

(In a related item, CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Mid-East Reporting in America) notes that, contrary to oft-repeated myth, Gaza is not the "most densely populated area in the world." According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2004-2005, the population per sq. mile for 2003 in the Gaza Strip was 8,666 - rendering it less densely populated than numerous places around the world, including Monaco (41,608), Singapore (17,751), Gibraltar (11,990), Hong Kong (17,833), and especially Macau, which is nearly ten times more densely populated than the Gaza Strip (71,466).)

Some Israeli leaders, among them Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz, had come out in favor of leaving the homes of Gush Katif residents intact. Just a few weeks ago, Mofaz said he opposed demolishing the homes because the operation would be both too costly and too dangerous. "I am not prepared, as the Defense Minister of the State of Israel, to endanger Israeli soldiers, in order to destroy the houses of settlers," he said at the time.

Just recently, however, he reversed his position in favor of demolition. Mofaz proposed over the weekend that Israel destroy the buildings, while the PA would clear away the rubble and even use it to build a seaport. Such a port was provided for in the Oslo Accords, but the plan was shelved due to Israeli worries that it would be used to smuggle weapons into the PA. It appears that the "destruction and clean up" scheme announced by Rice would not require Israel to be involved in the actual demolition process. Israel would pay the PA or a third party to destroy the homes and to dump the debris.

Gov´t Plans to Arrest Leading Gush Katif Residents


A week before the planned expulsion of thousands of Gush Katif Jews, a special military police unit will seek out leading residents and arrest them in the middle of the night. A military source has informed Arutz-7 that the army and police thus hope to weaken morale in Katif, as well as weaken the opposition to the uprooting. The special unit's job will be to search out the central figures in the area, according to a prepared list, and arrest them.

One of the officers said that the mission would involve "picking out and peeling off the people from their homes in the middle of the night." The operative assumption is that the early removal of the leading figures will break the residents' staying power. Gush Katif spokesman Eran Sternberg said, "The ideas of this government are getting wilder and wilder by the day.

Knesset member Michael Eitan's statement that Sharon is worse than the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu has taken on terrible significance in light of this new idea, which it is hard to believe, has even been thought of. Sharon is trying with all his might to turn the IDF into the Securitate [the cruel Romanian secret police]. If the army officers, public figures and rabbis do not call unambiguously for soldiers not to take part in these political games and to refuse such appalling orders, I don't know where we will end up."

More Peres Good Will: Guns for the PA


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should give the PA guns for thousands of soldiers as another "goodwill gesture," according to Associate PM Shimon Peres. Israel has handed over Gush Katif maps to the PA. "It's not the guns that threaten us, but the suicide bombers," Peres told Israel Radio Friday, repeating what he has said many times in the past several years.

Israel also announced at the end of last week that it had turned over to the PA detailed maps of the infrastructure of water and electric lines in the 21 Jewish communities in Gaza. Residents have expressed fears that if the PA will receive the maps, they will quickly find their way into the hands of terrorists and enable them to pinpoint attacks. More detailed maps of the towns have not been given to the PA.

The PA has announced that it plans to secure the Gaza area with 5,000 soldiers, but that it needs weapons that prohibited by previous Arab-Israeli agreements. Allowing PA soldiers to carry light arms would another in a series of concessions by the Sharon government, which has asserted several times that it would not offer the PA any new freedoms until it cracks down on terror.

However, General William Ward, the new American special envoy in the Middle East, has increasingly put pressure on Israel to make concessions to the PA. Israel also reportedly plans to relinquish security control to the PA over large urban areas, including Jenin and Kalkilye. Peres explained that the weapons would help the PA keep order amidst the growing anarchy between the PA and rival terrorist organizations. "Light arms do not pose a threat to Israel," he said. "The threat on Israel comes on the one hand from a war with tanks and airplanes and on the other hand from terrorists."

New Bible Theme Park to Open in Eilat


It's a holy world after all at Israel's most popular resort city. Investors and organizers, including Africa Israel, plan to open next week a Bible-themed amusement park in the Red Sea coastal city of Eilat that will feature attractions and activities that showcase traditional stories of kings and queens from the Old Testament, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said on Sunday. The coastal city is believed by many to be a frequent stop in the travels of several biblical monarchs, including King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

The $31 million project is located on about 12,000 square meters (2.9 acres) of land alongside Eilat's gala hotel resorts, reminiscent of Las Vegas. Visitors will be able to watch staged scenes from the Bible at the "Cave of the Bible." An interactive museum lies within the depths of the "Cave of Wisdom" while a 3-D film about the Bible will be featured as well.

While Disney World may have the Jungle Cruise, this particular theme park offers a boat ride through a lavish landscape that showcases scenes from the life of King Solomon, who many believe had sent his trade ships from the city. Admission to the park is expected to go for more than NIS 100 (about $22) and discounts will be given to groups, children and IDF soldiers.

Eilat, which borders Egypt and Jordan, serves as a magnet for both Israeli and foreign tourists. The city is Israel's hottest town, boasting numerous resorts and beaches on the coast of the Red Sea, as well as the Coral Reef. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in May that he wants to pass a law that would allow public tenders for a strip of casino hotels in the city, resembling resorts in Las Vegas.

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