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PA: No al-Qaeda Operatives Present in Gaza


Palestinian Authority (PA) officials on Thursday denied reports that al-Qaeda terrorists are operating in Gaza. Among those who reported the terrorist presence was Chief of Army Intelligence Maj. Gen. Aaron Ze'evi-Farkash who recently confirmed the presence of al-Qaeda operations in Sinai and Gaza following Israel's implementation of the Gaza/Samaria Disengagement Plan.

Bush Meets With Abbas, Cites Progress for Peace

By Paula Wolfson (VOA-Washington) &

President Bush said that remarkable progress is being made in the Middle East, and the likelihood of a Palestinian state is greater than ever. But at the same time he stressed both sides must take important steps for peace. Bush said he is more confident now about the prospects for peace than he was when he first took office five years ago. He said the path ahead would be difficult, but added that the important thing is that the Palestinian and Israeli leaders are now "partners in peace."

"Prime Minister Sharon wants there to be peace. President Abbas wants there to be peace. And both men are showing strong leadership toward achieving that objective," he said.

At a news conference following talks with Abbas, Bush again called on the Palestinians to take steps to curb violence, and urged Israel to stop settlement expansion. "Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes its "road map" obligations or prejudices the final status negotiations with regard to Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem," said the president.

For the first time, however, Bush noted that a Palestinian state might not be possible until after he has left office, three years away. Bush set a goal last year for the creation of a Palestinian state before the end of his term in 2008. Bush noted that the Palestinian Authority would have to reject and fight terrorism in order to "earn the confidence of its neighbors," a clear reference to Israel's skepticism about Abbas' ability to control terrorist factions. "The way forward must begin by confronting the threat that armed gangs pose to a genuinely democratic Palestine," said Bush.

In his response, Abbas emphasized the need for a quick return to negotiations under the terms of the road map - the blueprint for peace drafted with help from the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States. The Palestinian leader said the recent Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip opened a window of opportunity for progress. He stressed the challenge now is to keep that window open. "The time has come to put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the time has come that the Palestinian people will attain their freedom and independence. The time has come to move quickly towards the resumption of permanent status negotiations."

Abbas said he gave President Bush an update on actions the Palestinian Authority is taking to move the process forward. He noted that Palestinian legislative elections would be held in about 100 days, and that an effort is being made to bring all parties into the political process. He did not mention any groups by name, including Hamas, but stressed the elections would be inclusive. "All groups are underway to the electoral progress, so all groups will be part of the political Palestinian fabric," he added.

Israel has raised concerns about any participation in the electoral process by Hamas, which it considers to be a terrorist group.

Vatican: Parts of David's Tomb to Be Under Papal Control


An official Vatican newspaper has reported that during his upcoming visit to the Vatican, President Moshe Katsav will sign an agreement placing parts of David's Tomb over to papal control. If such an agreement is signed, it will put an end to drawn out negotiations that began in 1998.

Israeli and Vatican representatives began discussing issues of jurisdiction over certain sites around seven years ago. These sites include various buildings and parcels of land that the Catholic Church claims it used to control. The church is now seeking to reclaim its ownership of these sites. Among the places under debate is an area that the church refers to as the site of the "last supper," which is situated at the burial site of Kings David, Solomon, Rechavam, Assa, Chezekiyahu and Amatzia.

The Vatican newspaper, El Messagero, reported that President Katsav is expected to sign an agreement during his visit that will give the church control over the upper part of David's Tomb. The church has already shown Israel a trial agreement, according to which the Vatican will receive control over this part of David's Tomb in exchange for the ancient synagogue in Toledo, Spain, which was converted into a church after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

In response to the newspaper's report, an official from the Foreign Ministry stated "Israel is not prepared to relinquish its jurisdiction over this area." At the same time, they admit that a blueprint of a possible agreement with the Vatican has been received.

Hasidic Sect Would Forbid Novel About Forbidden Love

By Ha'aretz

This is the story of a boiler installer from Haifa who dedicated five years of his life to researching the extremist Toldot Aharon Hasidic sect, and ended up writing a romance novel.

The novel revolves around a story of the forbidden love between a young ultra-Orthodox woman and a secular man. Since the book has been published, its author, Menashe Darash, has known no peace. Ultra-Orthodox extremists, who were Darash's friends until not long ago, have decided to prevent the book from being released. Darash says he has been receiving harassing phone calls since he agreed at the end of last month to stop distributing the book and then retracted what he said was his coerced consent. And on Sunday, someone threw 50 mice into his living room.

Darash, married and a father of three, has been making a living for more than 20 years from a small boiler-installing business. He has difficulty explaining what made him decide five years ago to get inside the Toldot Aharon. "One day I installed a boiler in some building near Kiryat Vishnitz in Haifa, and from the roof of the building the entire neighborhood was spread out before me," said Darash. "That same day, in the evening, I saw a report on TV about a rally by the Toldot Aharon, and I saw that they're very different from the Haredim [ultra-Orthodox] I knew until then. Apparently it was the combination of these two things that did it."

Darash began reading everything he could find about the Hasidim who wear striped robes, and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. "I put a black skullcap on my head and I landed right in a study hall," he said. Despite his foreignness, Darash, a secular Jew whose parents emigrated from Iraq, was welcomed by the closed Ashkenazi Hasidic group.

"I met a very old man and won him over," said Darash. "Through him I met his whole large family, the children and the grandchildren, and they introduced me to the Hasidic stream. The truth is that in the beginning it was a little strange and they asked if I was a journalist, but I explained to them that all I wanted was to collect material for my son's school project. I went to Mea Shearim at least once a month, I bought books, and each time I returned armed with more knowledge."

A few months after Darash started his journeys to Jerusalem, he decided to write a book. A book called "The Daughter of the Rebbelach," which describes Tami Hindele, a pretty ultra-Orthodox woman who tries and fails to overcome her love for a secular man, influenced him.

Darash said several Hasidim knew the kind of book he was writing. "Some told me that the Hasidism would not let it go quietly," he said. "I thought that at most there would be some complaints and curses and the story would be over." The book, which Darash and his wife self-published, was printed in Jerusalem and somehow made its way to Mea Shearim.

Asher Barak, an attorney who represents the Hasidim opposed to the book, said Darash misled them. "He received information fraudulently," said Barak. "Their community hosted him, and he presented himself as someone who wanted to become religious. He put in the book all kinds of details that he acquired, such as a document that Toldot Aharon gives to its youths before they get married. This isn't something they tend to talk about in public."

Barak said his clients' greatest concern is that "youths from the community could become interested in the book, and its content could corrupt them. The romance at the core of the book is something that would not be considered in this community."

On September 28 Barak and two Hasidim came to Darash's house and asked him not to distribute the book anywhere; Darash refused, and they left. The next day Barak called to offer a compromise, whereby Darash would be compensated for keeping the book under wraps. Darash and his wife got scared, and that evening Barak and two Hasidim came for an hours-long visit. "They told me their rabbi would die if he knew the story, that I damaged thousands of children," said Darash. "Later they said, `We're the moderate ones, and it's worthwhile for you to deal with us. We're not responsible for what the radical ones will do.'"

The two parties decided that the Hasidim would pay Darash NIS 50,000 in compensation and that he would delete all references to Hasidism. He also said he would give the Hasidim all copies of the book and show them the amended version at a later date in order to get their approval for its publication. At 3:30 A.M., Darash said, he signed the papers they gave him without reading them. "I just wanted them to leave already," he said.

Israeli novelist Sami Michael, a neighbor of Darash's, witnessed part of the scene. "His daughter was crying, his wife had run upstairs, they told him to turn off the TV and he sat on the side chain-smoking," said Michael. "I told the attorney and the rabbis right away, as the president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and as an experienced author, that any agreement made under these conditions is invalid from the start," Michael stated.

The next day Darash said he discovered that the agreement he had made verbally was not reflected in the document he had signed. When he told the Hasidim that he would send them the copies of the book only after the agreement was altered, he began receiving harassing phone calls, he says. One person called and said, "If you don't kill the book, you'll be killed," Darash said.

Barak said there was no evidence that Toldot Aharon was involved in the calls. The case is now at a crossroads, said one of Darash's lawyers: The next step could be legal proceedings or a mutually agreed solution. "Yes, I'm prepared to compromise," said Darash. "But only out of fear."

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