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El Al Plane Wrongly Thought to Have Been Hijacked

By Ha'aretz

Two Israel Air Force warplanes were scrambled Thursday afternoon to escort an El Al Israel Airlines passenger plane that was thought to have been hijacked. The plane, a 757 Boeing carrying 79 people, lost contact with European air-traffic controllers while in flight. According to regulations, an airplane-hijacking attempt was reported and Ben Gurion Airport was temporarily closed to all flight traffic. Air traffic controllers lost contact with the civilian plane, which was traveling from Moscow to Tel Aviv, for three minutes but the report on the hijacking was subsequently proven to be incorrect.

32 Wounded in Islamic Jihad Suicide Bombing Near Tel Aviv Bus Station

By Ha'aretz

A suicide bomber blew up near the old central bus station in southern Tel Aviv at around 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, wounding at least 32 people. Islamic Jihad said that it carried out the attack. The terrorist group has claimed responsibility for each of the six suicide bombings in Israel since a truce took effect last February. Police said that the suicide bomber was the only person killed in the explosion.

On Thursday evening, Islamic Jihad released a video recording in which it claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. Palestinian sources in the West Bank city of Nablus identified the bomber as Sami Antar, 20, a resident of the adjacent Balata refugee camp.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had no specific warnings of an attack but only general information indicating Islamic Jihad was intending to strike. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the IDF to continue its operations in the West Bank against Islamic Jihad.

This is the first terror attack that originated in Nablus in more than a year. Other recent attacks carried out by Islamic Jihad involved explosives from Jenin assembled by operatives from the Tul Karm area that reached the Sharon region via Jerusalem.

Sources in Nablus told Ha'aretz that Antar was a member of an Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades branch headed by Balata resident Ala Sanakra. This particular branch of the Brigades, which seeks its inspiration from Hizbullah, has threatened to disrupt Palestinian parliamentary elections in the city by carrying out terror attacks.

The Thursday blast occurred at a shwarma (gyro) stand close to the bus station, at the junction of Neveh Sha'anan and Salomon streets, in an area normally crowded with shoppers and travelers. Witnesses said the bomber entered the restaurant pretending to be a peddler selling disposable razors.

According to police, the bomber blew himself up in the restaurant's bathroom and may have been trying to prepare the explosive device when it went off prematurely.

Of the wounded, one person was in serious condition, five people sustained moderate wounds and the others were lightly hurt. All the wounded were evacuated from the site of the attack within a short time of the blast. They were taken to Wolfson Medical Center in Holon and Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.

After the blast, a crowd gathered outside the restaurant. An elderly man wearing a felt hat wept. "There was a huge boom near... a restaurant," witness Ronit Lis told Reuters. "Everything turned black and I ran away. They began to close the area down and there are a lot of ambulances in the area."

A witness, who identified himself only as Itzik, said he was eating at a fast-food stand when he began to suspect the man standing next to him. "All of a sudden a policeman came, he pulled him out, and started searching him," he told Israel Radio. The suspect fled, Itzik said, and five minutes later the explosion was heard.

Israel said that the blame for the attack lay at the feet of the Palestinian Authority, which it said was doing nothing to fight terrorism. "The terror attack in Tel Aviv is a direct result of the Palestinian Authority's glaring indifference to preventing terror against Israel," David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, told Ha'aretz.

"The PA continues its policy of refusing to take any steps whatsoever to prevent this terror, and ignoring its commitments to do so. It continues to sit idly by and do nothing."

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, condemned the attack, calling it an act of sabotage against Palestinian parliamentary balloting scheduled for next Wednesday. "We condemn this attack," he said. "This is an attack to sabotage the Palestinian elections and sabotage the efforts being exerted to revive the peace process after the elections."

In the wake of the blast, the police raised the level of alert across the whole country, Channel 10 TV reported. Olmert did not convene a special meeting of top ministers and defense officials following the Tel Aviv attack but held consultations via telephone. He spoke with IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and heads of the police and Shin Bet domestic security service.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz directed the security establishment to continue operations against Islamic Jihad and "ticking time-bombs" during the coming week when Israel had planned to reduce its presence in major West Bank cities in the lead up to Palestinian parliamentary elections. Mofaz on Thursday night convened security chiefs for consultation in the wake of the bombing.

Peres Expects New Peace Talks After Palestinian, Israeli Elections

By David Gollust (VOA-Washington)

Israeli senior statesman Shimon Peres said Thursday that he believes talks on a permanent Middle East peace accord can resume soon after upcoming Israeli and Palestinian elections.

Peres expressed confidence that the new centrist Kadima party would not falter despite Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's debilitating illness. He predicted a shift to the political center in Israel in that country's March 28 elections that would give a new government a mandate to renew peace talks with the Palestinians.

Peres, a former Labor Party Prime Minister, shocked the Israeli political scene several weeks ago when he announced his defection to Sharon's new party. The move came before the massive stroke that may permanently end the Prime Minister's political career.

But Peres insisted that Kadima, being run in Sharon's absence by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is not a temporary phenomenon. He said Sharon's legacy is not just the withdrawal from Gaza but a realignment of Israeli politics toward the center: "After [former Prime Minister David] Ben Gurion, many parties in Israel moved to the corners - extreme right, extreme left, extreme religion, extreme anti-religion. Now we reassemble those forces to a positive center that will be capable to take decisions and decide about a real future for Israel," he said.

Peres said while the Palestinians are highly divided, he is hopeful there will be a similar convergence toward the moderate center after their elections January 25. He said Sharon's peace-making strategy was Gaza-first, not Gaza-only, and that he expects Israel to be ready to resume direct talks with the Palestinians on implementing the international peace road map right away after elections are completed.

Peres said Iran's nuclear program is "the greatest danger in our time." He said despite Iranian threats against the Jewish state, Israel has opted for a secondary role in the campaign against the Iranian nuclear program, which he said would only increase as a threat if there is not international solidarity.

"What is needed now is a united policy, otherwise the Iranians will make a mockery of every announced declaration by any party. And it looks like the West, even the Russians, are moving toward the same conclusion: to bring up the Iranian issue to the Security Council," he said.

Peres said there should be similar international opposition to Iran's long-range ballistic missile program. He said no one in the world is threatening Iran, and the Tehran government should be made to explain why it needs missiles with ranges of up to three thousand kilometers.

Israel's Fate

By Emanuel A. Winston (Commentary)

I have just spoken to an old friend in Israel (whose name I will not mention because you would likely know it) who is wise beyond his years about Israeli politics.

I asked his opinion as to whether he was ready to support Binyamin Netanyahu, given the 'Kadima' Alternative. He then quoted an American homily: "Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me; twice shame on me." He went on to say that he wouldn't trust Bibi as far as he could throw a smokestack.

I had hoped he would say anyone is better than Olmert and 'Kadima.' So then I asked my friend: "What about 'Kadima'?"

He opined that 'Kadima' would lead the nation down the road to further concessions, which would encourage the Muslim Arab Palestinians to greater demands and greater terror. I concurred and further stated that, as Israel sank lower and lower, the Europeans would cheer in delight and assist that downward spiral wherever possible. In fact, the Europeans would be so delighted with the results; they would find new concessions that even the Arabs had not yet thought of.

I personally would add that such results of Israel's degradation would fit the plans of the Bush family and their Arab Muslim partners...always the petroleum industry.

Regrettably, because neither the Israeli political leaders nor a large segment of the Israeli people realize their immediate dire peril, Israel must fall very far before she reaches bottom and hopefully starts back up. With further regret, I am certain the 'Kadima' leadership will result in an even greater expansion of the graveyards dug by Rabin, Peres, Barak, Netanyahu, Sharon and now Olmert who continues the process in Hebron.

How terribly sad that what was to be the return of Israel to its place in the sun has once again allowed itself to be dragged into the darkness. We always had our dedicated enemies but now they come from within with a vengeance.

This abortive shell called 'Kadima' seems a collection of our worst nightmares. They were drawn together like a magnet. Weak men and women whose tendency was for pleading loudly. Because they were embarrassed that Israel existed - a Jewish State surrounded by enemies - they opted for the 'ghetto Jew' solution, namely to bribe their persecutors by gifting them their own Jewish Land.

I hope my friend is wrong but I don't think so. There is always the remote possibility that Netanyahu would offer the people a signed "Contract" which he could, of course deny after being elected but at least we would have him by his articulate tongue. Let the Likud Party pose the questions and let Bibi's answers stand as his irrevocable commitment.

Wouldn't it be great if the law forced politicians, to keep their promises? So, ask Bibi if he is ready to commit himself to the people in a binding contract. Who knows? He might.

New Tel Aviv-U.S. Flights to Spur Competition, Drop Fares


Airline passengers are expected to enjoy lower fares, and competition probably will stiffen as airlines make an effort to grab a larger share of the profitable Tel-Aviv-New York route. The Tourism Ministry earlier this week overrode objections from El Al and granted Israir a two-year license to fly the route.

El Al has said the decision is a "blatant violation" of a government commitment and will appeal it to the courts. The addition of Israir in the market will reduce prices and increase tourism, the Ministry said.

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