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Israel Strikes Hizbullah After Shebaa Farms Attack

By VOA News, &

At least five Hizbullah terrorists and one Israeli soldier were killed and 12 others wounded Monday night in clashes along the Israel - Lebanon border. Israeli warplanes struck Hizbullah targets in southern Lebanon after Hizbullah terrorists attacked the divided border village of Ghajar and targets in the disputed Shebaa Farms area.

The clashes, which are continuing, are described as the worst in five years. The fighting is the first in the area since June when Hizbullah attacked Israeli army positions along the border, killing one Israeli soldier. Israeli authorities say the Hizbullah attack was unprovoked. Israeli media reports say the attack was an attempt by Hizbullah to kidnap Israeli soldiers in a bid to exchange them for Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.

In a massive offensive, Hizbullah fired Katyusha rockets and mortar shells at Israeli targets and infiltrated an IDF position in the Har Dov region Monday. Dozens of Katyusha rockets were fired at the cities of Kiryat Shemona, Metulah and other targets in the Galilee throughout Monday afternoon and evening. In addition, two Hizbullah terrorists infiltrated the IDF's Gladiola position, wounding four soldiers, including one seriously. The injured soldiers were evacuated to Haifa's Rambam Hospital. Reports from the scene said the rocket attacks were particularly intense.

The attacks then continued later in the evening, with rockets launched at the Galilee city of Metulah, followed by an IDF Northern Command announcement for all residents of the northern Galilee to enter their bomb shelters. The Metulah attack directly struck a home. Residents of nearby Kibbutz Snir, in the Galilee panhandle below Har Dov, took cover in their bomb shelters during the afternoon attack, as one rocket struck the kibbutz itself. As a precaution, children in three other Galilee kibbutzim were also rushed into bomb shelters due to the bombardment.

During the barrage, Israeli security forces exchanged fire with several terrorists near the Arab village of Rajar, which straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border. Four Hizbullah terrorists were killed in that exchange. The IDF launched an air strike against a Hizbullah command post and surrounding roads used by the terrorists. Political commentators predicted that Israel would not offer a stronger response than that already taken for fear that a more intense reaction would play into the hands of Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who would benefit politically from an escalated conflagration.

There has been a heightened alert along the northern border in recent days, with the reception of intelligence information pointing to planned Hizbullah attacks and kidnappings. At a news conference Monday night called to discuss the latest political developments in Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the clashes were a reminder to Israelis that their northern border remains dangerous. Sharon said the clashes should remind Israelis of why they need to pay attention to security in the region, and of the efforts Israelis need to take to continue fighting terrorism.

A statement from Hizbullah said the fighting began when Israeli troops crossed into Lebanese territory at the border village of Ghajar. Israeli military authorities said among the targets struck were a Hizbullah command post and a number of roads in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah, which the State Department describes as a terrorist organization, has been under pressure to disarm. Last year the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution that calls on all militias in Lebanon to disarm, something Hizbullah said it would not do.

During a meeting with security officials Monday evening called to assess the outbreak of violence, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the latest escalation was a result of the pressure exerted on Syria over the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, as well as international pressure on the Hizbullah. "The Hizbullah action is an attempt to draw Israel into an escalation and divert attention to our region," he said.

Mofaz also lauded IDF troops stationed on the northern border and said their "wise actions" thwarted an attempt to abduct soldiers. According to the defense minister, the Hizbullah operation was planned carefully and took a while to prepare. According to Mofaz, Hizbullah may attempt more attacks, including abductions of soldiers, in the near future. The minister instructed the army to remain alert and review procedures meant to foil abductions. Mofaz also called for action on the diplomatic front and asked that details of Monday's Hizbullah offensive be relayed to the United States, Egypt, and the European Union, in an effort to prompt pressure on the Lebanese government to curb attacks from its territory. Mofaz also recommended that an official complaint be filed with the United Nations Security Council.

Palestinians Watching Israeli Political Upheaval Closely

By Jim Teeple (VOA-Jerusalem) & Ha'aretz

The decision by Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to quit his Likud Party and call new elections has surprised and shocked many Israelis. Sharon's political gamble has also caught many Palestinians off guard. Sharon said Monday that the new party he is forming would follow the internationally backed "Roadmap" peace plan, and that he does not envision unilateral Israeli pullbacks in the West Bank. Under the Roadmap peace plan, Palestinians are to end attacks on Israelis, and Israelis are to suspend settlement construction in the West Bank.

Sharon, asked Israeli President Moshe Katsav to dissolve parliament and call new elections. In a brief statement read on Israel Radio, Sharon said he expected to take at least half of the Likud Party with him into the new National Responsibility Party. The Likud Party controls more than 30 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. But before that can happen, Katsav must poll legislators to see if any coalition can be assembled to form a new government, something considered highly unlikely. After his meeting, Katsav met briefly with reporters. He said he believes elections should be held as soon as possible.

Among the Israeli politicians that Sharon is expected to bring with him into his new party is former Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres. Peres was defeated recently in his bid for re-election as party head by labor union leader Amir Peretz, who is expected to be Sharon's main opponent in upcoming elections. On Sunday, the Labor Party formally approved leaving Sharon's coalition government.

A massive majority of some 80 lawmakers approved eight bills to dissolve the Knesset on Monday evening. Katsav said Monday evening he would accept a decision made by lawmakers to disband the Knesset and hold early elections on March 28. "My goal is that, during the interim period until elections, the state will continue to operate properly. The prime minister's hands must not be tied," Katsav said.

The president intends to ensure that Knesset factions will allow Sharon to nominate ministers to serve during the interim period in the event that early elections are ordered by legislative decree rather than by presidential order. The president said after the meeting that Sharon had told him he had come to the conclusion that it is impossible to carry on as prime minister within the current Knesset.

By law, elections would be held within 90 days. This means that the vote will take place by the beginning of March 2006, several weeks before the March 28 date discussed Labor and Likud representatives on Sunday. Army Radio said Monday that March 8 was now the most likely date for the elections.

Following Sharon's departure, Likud Central Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi will take over the party chairmanship. Israel Radio reported he would convene the Likud Central Committee on Thursday in order to vote for a new chairman.

The long list of expected contenders includes Binyamin Netanyahu, Uzi Landau - the leader of the so-called Likud "rebels," Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Education Minister Limor Livnat, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Yisrael Katz.

Saeb Erekat is the chief Palestinian Authority negotiator in talks with Israeli officials. He said Sharon's political gamble is extremely significant for Palestinians. "I believe it is an eruption of a political volcano in Israel," he said. "I believe it is a restructuring of politics in Israel. I do not think this is happening because of economic or social program, it is happening because of us, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I have not seen anything more significant in Israel since 1967."

Many political observers in Israel and the Palestinian territories say the pending Israeli election campaign and Palestinian elections in January put the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians on hold.

Hanan Ashrawi, a long-time advocate for Palestinian rights and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, agrees, but she also says Sharon's political move could free up Israeli politics from what she describes as its current hardened positions. "Ultimately it is healthy for Israel to do this, because the Likud was essentially just a competition between the extreme right and the more extreme right," noted Ashrawi. "The Labor Party was almost nonexistent and co-opted by Likud. So, now, the real political map will be drawn up, and there will probably be a period of a lack of external activity, or movement on the peace process. In preparation for the elections, I think, there will be heightened rhetoric to win votes, but in a post-election era, there probably will be a re-emergence of a peace camp."

Direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians were suspended last month, after a suicide bombing in Israel killed at least five Israelis. Israeli officials said they would not re-start talks until the Palestinian Authority does more to disarm militants who carry out attacks against Israelis.

The PA's Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority has pledged to disarm militants, and he will be waiting to talk with Israeli officials when the elections are over. "I hope that, once the dust settles down in Israel, that we will have a partner that is willing to re-engage in the end game, the end of conflict, in order to achieve a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians, which, I believe, is doable," said Erekat.

He said Palestinians no longer view Israeli politics as a purely internal matter that has no effect on their lives. What happens politically in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, he says, has an immediate impact on Palestinians in Jericho or Gaza, or anywhere else that Palestinians live.

New Bible Quiz Web Site on the Web


Last week Jacob Richman launched a new educational web site called The Bible Quiz (

The, free, online Bible Quiz contains more than 3,000 multiple choice questions about the Five Books of Moses. Participants will choose a chapter and timer setting, and then the quiz, randomly, selects questions from its database, with no two quizzes alike.

There is, also a database browser for reviewing and printing the questions and correct answers. Richman can be reached by e-mail at

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