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Sharon Still Comatose

By Ha'aretz

Hadassah University Hospital announced that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon underwent an MRI scan Saturday evening. Hospital spokeswoman Yael Bossem-Levy explained that the scan indicated "the continued reabsorption of the bleeding in Sharon's brain and a reduction in the swelling. There is no sign of intercranial pressure and the size of the cerebral lobes is unchanged." Hadassah, located in Ein Karem in Jerusalem, said that the prime minister's condition remains unchanged. He is in critical but stable condition, on a respirator, has not regained consciousness and is still in the intensive care unit.

EU Ministers Say Hamas Win Puts Future Palestinian Aid in Doubt

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Following last week's Hamas election victory, European foreign ministers met in Brussels Monday and called on Hamas to renounce violence or risk the loss of valuable aid programs. The United States also threatened to cut off funds, and Israel said it would not allow any transfer of money to "terrorists."

Still reeling from last week's electoral win, the EU ministers huddled in Brussels to discuss their next steps. The European Union is the largest aid donor to the Palestinians and provides hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance. EU ministers said future aid is in doubt unless Hamas agrees to renounce violence, disarm its militia and recognize Israel's right to exist.

Europe and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization and Washington has also said it is re-evaluating its aid programs.

Speaking at a news conference in London, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States is attentive to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. But, she said, Hamas cannot have it both ways - advocate peace and violence at the same time. "I think we're all saying exactly the same thing, that there are choices now confronting Hamas and we will see what they do," she said.

The United States has set aside more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians and has indicated that for now funds would be delivered to the government of President Mahmoud Abbas, which has no links to Hamas.

Speaking in Ramallah on Monday, Abbas called on the international community not to halt funds. Earlier, newly elected Hamas lawmaker Ismail Haniyeh made a similar appeal. Speaking in Gaza, Haniyeh reassured donors that all aid would go to the Palestinian people to pay for salaries and essential services to improve people's daily lives. But Hamas leaders have also taken on a more defiant tone, saying they'll not be blackmailed and will turn to Arab and Muslim donors if the West cuts off its funding.

For its part, Israel has also threatened to halt the transfer of millions of dollars in customs and tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

Money has become a major issue as Hamas prepares to form a government. Donors have said they will not give money to an extremist organization that advocates violence and yet they are also aware that cutting off funding will further hurt already poverty stricken Palestinians and could result in greater chaos and violence.

Hamas Controversial in the Middle East and in the United States

By Deborah Block (VOA-Washington, D.C.)

The Islamic terrorist group Hamas is preparing to form the next Palestinian government after its victory in Wednesday's parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, in Gaza City, thousands of Fatah members -- angry over the ruling party's defeat -- demonstrated to demand the resignation of corrupt officials. There are sharply conflicting views about Hamas -- both in the Middle East, and in the United States.

Hamas' landslide victory in parliamentary elections means it effectively controls the Palestinian government. Rafi Dajani, with the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington D.C.-based group that favors a Palestinian state, said many Palestinians were discontented with the longtime rule of the Fatah Party, which did not give them want they wanted.

"They did not deliver on social services, they did deliver on corruption, they didn't deliver on law order, and they certainly didn't deliver on statehood. So Hamas comes along and says, 'Look, we haven't delivered on statehood, so far, because we haven't been governing, but we have delivered on social services, we're not corrupt, we are clean, vote for us,' and the people voting for Hamas was a solid rejection of the failure of the existing institutions."

Hamas has carried out dozens of suicide bombings against Israel, and said it will not disarm. Hamas and Israel oppose peace talks with each other, but Dajani said Hamas might slowly be changing some of its views.

"The last Hamas suicide bombing was in August of 2004 -- almost a year and a half ago. During the campaign, Hamas' platform did not mention at all, did not have a single word, about Israel's existence or the destruction of Israel or Israel's right to exist," said Dajani. "We have the potential for hope that they will slowly evolve into a political party and shed its violent past."

But Jim Phillips, a Middle East expert at the conservative research organization the Heritage Foundation in Washington, thinks that possibility is remote. "I think it will utter some moderate phrases, and hope to stay in power. But I don't think its ideology will be changed because it was founded essentially to destroy Israel, not to negotiate peace with Israel. And it would have to abandon its ideological moorings to change all that."

Dajani said it does not benefit either side to maintain a hard line. "The only way Israel can achieve the security it deserves, and the Palestinians can achieve the statehood they deserve, is through negotiation, and for there to be a viable, stable Palestinian state on the other side of the border that's able to stand on its own two feet. Each side adopting a hard-line position will ensure the result that the state, or whatever develops on the Palestinian side, will be unstable, will foster extremism and will provide Israel with continued insecurity."

But Phillips believes that with Hamas in power, there is no chance of renewed peace talks. "Well I've argued for a time that the peace process was dead but not buried; it was kind of lying on the ground disintegrating, and I think this explodes the carcass,"

For now, both analysts say, world leaders are waiting to see what Hamas will and won't do before deciding how to deal with the next Palestinian government and whether the peace process can be revived.

Tel Aviv to Try Scientology Founder's Drug Rehab Program

By Ha'aretz

The Tel Aviv municipality will soon be running a drug rehabilitation program developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Drug addicts enrolled in the program, called Narconon, spend extended periods in a sauna and receive food supplements and vitamins to increase their perspiration rate and speed up the detoxification of their bodies. Private donors are financing the program.

Despite City Hall's enthusiasm, the Health Ministry and the Israel Anti-Drug Authority have not approved the program. "In my opinion, the Tel Aviv municipality cannot start such a process without the approval of the Health Ministry and the Anti-Drug Authority," said authority Director General Haim Messing last week.

"The patients will receive large doses of vitamins and food supplements while in the sauna to increase the excretion of toxins by the body," explained Messing. "This method has not been checked out in Israel. We are in favor of pilot programs in Israel and will follow it with an evaluation study."

A few months ago three representatives of Tel Aviv City Hall visited the United States and were impressed with the success rate of the program, which Dr. Benny Avrahami, director of the Tel Aviv Municipal Anti-Drug Authority, reported as ranging between 50 and 75 percent.

Avrahami explained that the program would be run twice a year, with 150 participating drug addicts. The patients will be treated at a special rehabilitation center on a residential basis. During their first six weeks at the center, patients will spend 40-60 minutes in a sauna three or four times a day. Between the sauna sessions, they will participate in physical exercises in a fitness room at the center and will receive food supplements. The second stage of the program, called Criminon, involves studying a curriculum that teaches participants how to cope with various situations.

"We received a donation of $1.5 million in the U.S. to run the program," said Avrahami. "The only condition set by the American donors was that we run this specific program. There is nothing in the implementation of this program that indicates spiritual goals. There will be no religious messages, not even veiled ones," assures Avrahami.

Criminon, which is part of the Narconon program, has been implemented in Israel's prisons for five years. So far 60 inmates addicted to drugs have been treated through the Criminon program. An Anti-Drug Authority source noted that in the Prison Services case, approval was given for the program because it did not involve the physical side of the program, only the educational one.

Brig. Gen. Yossi Beck, the Israel Prison Authority's head of treatment and rehabilitation, highly recommends the program. "Of the 60 men treated via the program and released from prison, only one is back behind bars for a drug-related offense. The program seems to have a positive effect." Beck also added that despite the connection between the program and the founder of Scientology, there are no religious or spiritual messages in the program.

"Sure, the program was developed by the founder of Scientology and Scientologists use it, but a professional theory should not be discounted because its propounder is a member of a certain religion," said Beck.

Messing, too, does not link his objection to the program with its relationship to Scientology. "In all my conversations with various people, I have not found any connection between Scientology and saunas. We are in favor of effective methods for drug rehabilitation, on the condition that programs be adopted only after being properly researched."

Google Plans Israeli R&D Center

By Ha'aretz

Google "is in the process of establishing an R&D center in Israel," Sergey Brin, a founder of the Internet search titan, told Ha'aretz during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Brin and co-founder Larry Page were among the more visible participants at the economic conference. Both have a solid connection with Israeli entrepreneurs in the Internet field.

A Google executive told Ha'aretz that the company had recently recruited a large number of academics, engineers, mathematicians, statisticians and economists for additional development of the company's search engine algorithm and its smart ad systems on the Internet. There is still a shortage of quality personnel for developing analytic tools and predicting the massive volume of information accumulated on the search engine.

Google currently employs 4,183 workers in eight research and development centers worldwide. Four centers are in the U.S. - two in California, one in New York and one in Washington. The other four are located in Japan, Switzerland, India and China. The Chinese center opened just a few months ago. At the time the Internet was full of rumors that Google was about to open an R&D center in Poland, but it was never approved.

Last summer, Google decided to establish a local marketing and sales branch in Israel to bolster its advertising revenues in the Israel market. Google hired Meir Brand to head its Israel office, choosing a former Microsoft executive just

2,000-Year-Old Judean Date Seed Growing Successfully

By Ha'aretz

A 2,000-year-old date seed planted last Tu B'Shvat has sprouted and is over a foot tall. Being grown at Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev, it is the oldest seed to ever produce a viable young sapling.

The Judean date seed was found, together with a large number of other seeds, during archaeological excavations carried out close to Massada near the southern end of the Dead Sea, the last Jewish stronghold following the Roman destruction of the Holy Temple. The age of the seeds was determined using carbon dating, but has a margin of error of 50 years - placing them either right before or right after the Massada revolt.

The seeds sat in storage for 30 years until Elain Solowey of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies was asked to attempt to cultivate three of them. Solowey spoke with Israel National Radio's Yishai Fleisher and Alex Traiman about reviving the ancient date palm.

Solowey, who raised the plant, has grown more than 100 rare and almost extinct species of plants. Together with Hadassah Hospital's Natural Medicine Center, she seeks to use the plants listed in ancient remedies to seek effective uses for modern medical conditions.

The Judean date has been credited with helping fight cancer, malaria and toothaches. Solowey was skeptical about the chances of success at first, but gave it a try. "I treated it in warm water and used growth hormones and an enzymatic fertilizer extracted from seaweed in order to supplement the food normally present in a seed," she said.

As this year's Tu B'Shvat (The 15th of the Jewish month of Shvat, the Jewish new year for trees) approaches, the young tree that sprouted from one of the three seeds now has five leaves (one was removed for scientific testing) and is 14 inches tall. Solowey has named it Metushelah (Methusaleh), after the 969-year-old grandfather of Noah, the oldest human being recorded in the Torah.

Solowey said that although the plant's leaves were pale at first, the young tree now looks "perfectly normal."

The Judean palms once grew throughout the Jordan Valley, from Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) to the Dead Sea. Those from Jericho, at the northern end of the Dead Sea, were of particularly notable quality. Though dates are still grown widely in the Jordan Valley, the trees come mostly from California.

The Judean date palm trees are referred to in Psalm 92 ("The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree..."). The tree was also depicted on the ancient Jewish shekel and now appears on the modern Israeli 10-shekel coin.

It is too early to tell the sex of the tree, but if it is female, it is supposed to bear fruit by 2010, after which it can be propagated to revive the Judean date palm species altogether. "It is a long road to our being able to eat the Judean date once again," Solowey said, "but there is the possibility of restoring the date to the modern world."

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