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West Bank Suicide Bomb Blast, Gun Battles Leave 3 Dead

By VOA News


Palestinian security officials said a Palestinian militant blew himself up near a group of Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Jenin, and Israeli soldiers separately shot dead two other Palestinians. The Israeli military said none of its troops were wounded when the suicide bomber attacked them during a raid on a suspected terrorist's home. In two other incidents, Palestinian officials said Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians during a gun battle with militants. The violence comes as Palestinian officials reportedly work to ensure that the January 25 Legislative Council elections take place in a safe and secure environment.


Sharon Remains Stable Following Stroke

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

Physicians treating Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plan to perform another brain scan to help determine whether to stop administering sedatives, a step toward bringing Sharon out of his medically induced coma.

His doctors replaced a catheter used to remove excess fluid from his brain, and attached a new intravenous line in the prime minister's leg. Both procedures were done to reduce chances of infection, as Sharon began his second week in deep sedation.

Sharon's brain scan Thursday evening showed positive results, indicating that the remnants of the blood in his brain from a massive stroke last week have been absorbed, hospital officials said in a statement.

One of Sharon's neurosurgeons, Dr. Jose Cohen, told an Israeli television station that he and his colleagues were surprised by the prime minister's ability to move the left side of his body. The stroke he suffered caused damage in the right hemisphere of his brain, which controls the left side of his body.

"We expected to see a serious weakening on the left side of his body, but we were surprised to see him move his left side," he said. "That means the damage on the right side of the brain was not quite as bad as we thought at first."

Sharon's doctors said he remains in critical-but-stable condition, and his recovery period, if he survives, will be long and difficult. Dr. Cohen said he does not expect Sharon to ever return to his old job, and people should just be grateful for his survival.

"I hear too many questions about the likelihood of him continuing as prime minister," he said. "What we have here is a man fighting for his life. Is it that important for him to be prime minister again? We need to think of him as a human being."

President Bush called Israel's acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to express concern for Sharon. It was the first conversation between the two men since Sharon suffered his stroke last week.

A statement from Olmert's office said Bush also pledged to implement the joint vision shared by the president and Sharon for promoting peace in the Middle East. Olmert is expected to visit Washington for talks with Bush prior to Israeli elections on March 28.

Meanwhile, the man expected to be Olmert's chief rival in those elections, Likud Party Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, ordered the four Likud Party Cabinet members in Olmert's government to quit. The move had been expected, but was put on hold after Sharon's stroke. Netanyahu badly trails Olmert in the polls.

The resignations are not expected to affect how Israel's government functions. Once the resignations take effect, Olmert can appoint his own supporters to the vacancies. There is speculation that former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who last year left the Labor Party to join Sharon's newly formed Kadima Party, will be appointed foreign minister.

Sharon's brain scan Thursday evening showed positive results, indicating that the remnants of the blood in his brain from a massive stroke last week have been absorbed, hospital officials said in a statement.

In response, doctors had removed a tube they had inserted into Sharon's skull to relieve pressure on his brain, the statement from Hadassah Hospital said.

"The Prime Minister's heart rate is regular and body temperature is normal," said a statement from Hadassah hospital, where Sharon is in what doctors described as critical but stable condition after suffering a massive stroke last week.

A member of Sharon's medical team said that the information about the brain disease diagnosed after his first stroke on December 18 had been concealed for "political reasons," Channel 10 television reported Wednesday.

The controversy surrounding Sharon's medical treatment has continued unabated, with his doctors coming under further criticism for concealing the diagnosis of cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA).

Senior executives at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, where Sharon was first treated in December and again since last Wednesday when he had the second, far more severe stroke, admitted this week that the hospital's doctors had decided to give the prime minister blood thinners despite the diagnosis of CAA.

The physicians had promised "full disclosure of [Sharon's] condition in the wake of his hospitalization" in December.

The doctor said there was the fear that if made public, the information would be used against Sharon and his Kadima party, particularly in light of the fact that CAA has often been associated in medical literature with Alzheimer's disease.

As published in Ha'aretz previously, senior physicians say anticoagulants such as the Clexane given to Sharon significantly increase the risk of stroke in people with CAA.


U.S. Intervenes in Israeli Elections: Administration Backs Olmert

By Ha'aretz

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been invited to visit Washington next month, and a PA newspaper reports that the U.S. has asked the PA and Arab countries to make Olmert-supporting gestures.

Olmert, who has replaced Ariel Sharon as the Kadima Party's prime ministerial candidate, is to visit Washington in February, just a month before Israel's national elections. Visits of this type invariably add to the invitee's stature in the perception of Israel's domestic public, and this will therefore help Olmert as the elections approach.

Olmert is also expected to become Israel's Prime Minister in the coming days, when Attorney General Menachem Mazuz declares that Sharon has become permanently incapacitated.

In addition, the U.S. has informed the PA and Arab countries that Olmert's stature must be strengthened as the elections approach in order that he "continue the process that Sharon started." So reports the PA's Arabic-language Al-Manar newspaper.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice issued a statement commending Olmert on his apparent decision to permit eastern Jerusalem Arabs to participate in the PA elections later this month.

Most reports do not note that the Israeli decision stipulates that Hamas ballots will not be allowed into the Jerusalem post offices in which the voting will take place. Olmert informed Rice of this on Tuesday. In any event, the Israeli decision must be finalized at Sunday's Cabinet meeting.

Rice, in her statement praising Olmert's decision, stated the United States' view that there is no place in the political process for groups or individuals who espouse violence and reject Israel's right to exist. "To participate in a peace process of Israelis and Palestinians," she said, " the Palestinian partner must at least accept Israel's right to exist. To implement agreements on movement and access for the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian partner must be committed to preventing violence."

The Al-Manar newspaper reported that the U.S. is conducting secret contacts with the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries in an effort to have them help strengthen Olmert's stature. The U.S. informed them that it is interested in having Olmert head Kadima and "continue the process that Sharon began to solve the Palestinian-Israel conflict." The paper further reports that the Americans feel that Olmert is a "smart leader who will be able, with his advisors, to lead the peace process and rebuff the political machinations against him."

The U.S. even informed Olmert, according to the paper, that it would like him to keep Sharon's advisors on his team, especially Dov Weisglass and Shimon Peres.


Entrepreneurs Eye Orthodox Market

By YnetNews.com

Many firms have discovered the business potential of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community in recent years and have started initiating and marketing projects specifically tailored for this sector of the population, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

The main beneficiaries from this trend are Orthodox costumers, whose special needs and requirements are finally addressed by businesses, after years of being overlooked.

One example for this new trend is the "Simchas Tender," a business catalog initiated by secular marketing agent Ron Makrin in cooperation with Orthodox investors. The entrepreneurs in this project discovered that 5,500 weddings are held each year in the haredi (Hassidic and Lithuanian) sector, generating revenues of almost $100 million. "A couple invests $15,000-18,000 on average in all wedding-related arrangements," Makrin said.

The "Simchas Tender" is a brochure containing a listing of businesses that offer wedding-related services, such as venues, photographers and jewelry stores, at special prices. According to Makrin, the brochure will be distributed in 150,000 ultra-Orthodox homes.

Another phenomenon sweeping the haredi public is that of chain stores. These are no longer just low-price food chains, but shops specializing in other areas as well. A few examples that stand out are "Kiddy Chic," a successful kids' clothes chain; "Ferster Hats," which specializes in men's hats; "Makor Hasfarim," which sells books, music products and ritual articles; and "Gal Paz," which offers music CDs and movies on DVDs.

Another indication for the rising number of haredi chains is a sales catalog Israeli credit card company Isracard distributed to 100,000 of its clients recently. The catalogue offers discounts in hundreds of haredi-oriented businesses across the country.


Taking It Off - The First Israeli XXX-Rated Haredi Film

By Smadar Shiloni (YnetNews.com)

Now playing at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque - Israel's first erotic ultra-Orthodox film! But as someone who likes her porn with some sort of a logical plot, Smadar Shiloni didn't really enjoy herself. That's what happens when you mix the holy with the profane

I naively thought to myself that an erotic ultra-Orthodox (haredi) movie would portray the enigmatic and forbidden sexuality of the closed-knit haredi community. By the time the promising memo arrived, I was already running through the following scene: Two Meah Shearim youngsters, one with fair skin and flushed thighs, the other a redhead with curly peyos and a burning libido under his kapota.

Both honestly try to obey the word of God, but can't quite manage to rein in their raging hormones, and hope the Almighty will turn a blind eye, as they taste the forbidden fruit.

So, I arrived at the Cinemateque that afternoon with high expectations of seeing the Zionist version of "Emanuel," or at the very least the Jewish "Red Shoe Diaries." I was longing for good porn, dripping with true lust, strengthened by an actual plot.

Like most women, I like my eroticism with some logic, and enjoy connecting with the characters, even if only loosely. In very extreme cases, I am satisfied with meager proof that they are really enjoying it.

But what I got were four long-winded scenes of dry sex, censured a la "Austin Powers": All relevant body parts were hidden behind flower pots, table corners, and little animals that pass nearby.

The movie "Sex Between the Holy and Profane" was filmed in 14 days, on a budget of $300,000. It will screen on weekends at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque. Apart from these numbers, there are other 'numbers' in the film itself, which unfortunately are even less exciting. If you insist on getting a second opinion, ask Motti the entrepreneur, praised by the film's director for his initiative, courage and honesty in producing a porn movie in Hebrew.

"There is a lot of vision behind this film," promised the brave director. "And this will only improve. Apart from the sex, in those short instances where there is some talking, there is actual acting and dialogues."

That's true, if you take into consideration that throughout the movie people actually exchanged words, sometimes even when there were wearing something, God help us. You'd be surprised, but the movie actually has a storyline with some potential: An ultra-Orthodox woman can't hold out any longer, and grabs her husband for their first quickie while their wedding is still going on.

For some unknown reason, she deserts him immediately thereafter and disappears with the DJ. They get to his house, he wonders aloud why she ran away from her wedding, and says goodnight. So much for dialogue. From this point on the film is silent. The guy then walks over to his bedroom, and starts getting it on with his girlfriend, Toni. This is where the vision the director mentioned earlier comes in.

Well, there is nothing to write home about, but on the other hand, there's nothing a push-up bra or Dr. Klein wouldn't be able to patch up. I am angry with myself for giving in to the social stipulation that flat-chested women are unworthy of taking part in such an important undertaking - the first porno haredi movie. But Tony and the DJ keep it going without too much interest.

The next morning, Toni gets up, goes over to the guestroom and praises the bride-in-question for peeping in on the action last night. That's the cue for the bride, who just yesterday lost her virginity, to cast off all inhibitions, rip off her clothes and jump into a tepid lesbian scene going. No need to elaborate here, except to note that this part also goes on forever, without any sign of pleasure from either woman.

Predictably, right after that, the bride's best friend, Sophie, shows up at the apartment, after searching all night for her friend. Like any good girlfriend, the bride recounts the whole ordeal, and we get a detailed flashback from the scene of the crime at the wedding: On the screen pops up a guy with a yarmulke, with a white sheet with a hole.

He reads the prayer book and commences with the mitzvah. After a good long hour of mutual cross-examination, he jumps up as if he left something on the stovetop, and reproachfully asks the new wife - "How come you know all these moves?" Looking for someone to put the blame on, she says she was "enlightened by God." The guy freaks out and leaves his new wife lusting for more ("What, that's it?"). The next scenes take us to discussions on pre-marital sex, sexual exploration and yet another prolonged sexcapade that doesn't quite hit home.

In the final scene, bright morning light shines through and it is time to leave. Sophie and her friend part ways at the backdrop of the sunrise. "I'll take everything I experienced here to my grave," she says in a somewhat somber tone, as if she's forgotten the inspiring oral experience she had just a few minutes earlier.

"I am staying here," declares the has-been-bride, "I have plenty more to learn and nowhere to go back to." They hug and kiss on the mouth, and for a moment it seems that yet another scene it about to unfold. But at this point you'll only need a tissue to wipe the tears. Sophie embarks on the road back to normalcy, and our bride stays put, sentenced to life of excommunication and incredible sex. Long live Israel!



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