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IDF Kills 2 Palestinians at Gaza Border Crossing

By VOA News

Israeli troops have killed two Palestinian gunmen who attacked a border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel. IDF officials said the gunmen infiltrated into Israel early Thursday through the Erez border crossing and threw hand grenades at the checkpoint before being killed. The Popular Resistance Committees and Al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades claimed joint responsibility for the attack. The Erez checkpoint is the main crossing for thousands of Palestinian workers with jobs in Israel. Israel routinely closes the crossing after violent incidents.

Putin Plans to Invite Hamas Leaders to Moscow

By Ha'aretz

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he plans to invite Hamas leaders to a meeting in Moscow. "Having maintained our contacts with the organization Hamas, we intend to invite their leaders to Moscow in the near future to search for solutions," Putin told a press conference in Madrid.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the international community on Thursday to give Hamas more time to change its ways before writing it off as a partner for Middle East peace.

Putin's announcement directly contradicts a statement issued two weeks ago by the Quartet, of which Russia is a member. That statement said: "There is a fundamental contradiction between armed group and militia activities and the building of a democratic state. A two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants in the democratic process to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel's right to exist, and disarm."

"We have never considered Hamas a terrorist organization," Putin said in Madrid. "Hamas came to power ... as a result of democratic, legitimate elections, and we must respect the choice of the Palestinian people."

The decision outraged Israel. "The Russians have never put Hamas on their list of terrorist organizations, and we have a long-standing dispute with them about it," said a government official. "The invitation to Hamas leaders to come to Moscow contradicts the position Russia presented in the Quartet, and with all due respect to Russia, the international community has a different stance."

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who met in New York on Thursday with the UN ambassadors of the five permanent Security Council members, urged them to stand fast on the four conditions that the council - again including Russia - had previously set for recognition of Hamas: recognition of Israel, disarmament, abandoning terror and accepting the road map peace plan.

"Every sign of weakness and of recognition will be interpreted by Hamas as legitimizing terror," she said. "It's important that the international community insist on the fulfillment of these conditions."

Livni's visit to New York was shorter than planned due to an unscheduled meeting with President George Bush in Washington on Thursday morning. During the half-hour meeting, Bush promised that the U.S. would not back down from the demands the Quartet made of Hamas.

However, the U.S. reacted cautiously to Putin's bombshell. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, in a briefing for reporters, said merely that Russia is a member of the Quartet, and the U.S. expects any meeting between Russian officials and Palestinian representatives to comply with the conditions laid out by the Quartet.

"These are the principles that were clearly articulated now several times by the Quartet and, again, with Russian participation and agreement. We would expect that any meeting that occurs with any Palestinian representatives, including Hamas, would emphasize these principles. That should be the approach for any country; that is, is to drive home what is agreed internationally is the standard for behavior here," Welch said.

Welch also said that the U.S. would continue its dialogue with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Bush, however, told Livni that no further U.S.-Palestinian dialogue would be possible unless the new Palestinian government recognizes Israel.

Kofi Annan urged the international community on Thursday to give Hamas more time to change its ways before writing it off as a partner for Middle East peace. Annan, speaking with reporters, counseled patience with the group so soon after its upset election victory. "We are at a very early stage of the game," he said. "Hamas won the election but they have never been in government. They need time to organize themselves." He said he hoped this would come during the three-month transitional period while Abbas was still in office.

Noting talks between Hamas and regional powers Egypt and Saudi Arabia, he urged Hamas to heed the advice of the quartet and other interested governments and honor the Palestinian Authority's past commitments, transform itself into a political party, and recognize the right of Israel to exist side-by-side in peace with an eventual Palestinian state.

Annan said he believed the Hamas elections win reflected the group's record of social service and fighting corruption rather than a shift in voter sentiment toward Islamic militancy. "My sense is they were voting for a peaceful and stable and well-organized Palestine. So there is a lesson there and a message for rulers and politicians in the region and everywhere in the world: That people want good government and will vote for people that they believe would offer that," he said.

Letter to IDF General: How Could You?


Yaakov Tessler, 17, wrote to the IDF Central Commander, asking why he was cruelly beaten in Amona, nearly losing an eye, even though he posed no threat and was merely registering his protest.

The entire letter by 17-year-old Yaakov Tessler of Jerusalem: "Peace and blessing. feel an obligation to turn to you, as one who is entrusted with the values of the army and the rule of law on the one hand, and with Jewish values and the Torah's commandments, on the other.

"I would like to address the events that occurred during the evacuation of the nine houses in Amona. As one who did not merit being in Gush Katif during the evacuation there, I felt a deep solidarity with the protest actions of the Gush Katif residents. I felt that this time, I could express my feelings by protesting.

"I therefore arrived happily in Amona, with the understanding and knowledge that there was still an appeal pending to the Supreme Court that might allow the houses to be evacuated voluntarily, without a struggle. My heart told me that the Supreme Court would certainly agree to this option, but I still decided to come in order to be certain that the houses would not be evacuated without the required protest against such an act of evacuating homes or communities in the Land of Israel. To my surprise, the Supreme Court preferred the forced evacuation, rather than having it done by agreement.

"I prepared myself for the evacuation, with the intention of undergoing this event - the evacuation of houses from the Land of Israel and a struggle - together with the cream of the crop of Israeli youth, struggling for their Land and inheritance with dignity and valor. I never dreamt or imagined that I would soon undergo such humiliation, murderous punches and injuries (my eye was saved from permanent damage only by miracle) by the policemen of the State of Israel, over whom you, as the Region Commander, commanded.

"I hereby declare that I held nothing in my hand, I threw nothing, I did not fight, I did not hit and I did not curse anyone. I sat in one of the houses with the understanding that very soon, I would be asked to leave, in accordance with a political decision and court order.

"As I was sitting in the house, a group of Yassam police entered and did not make any request for us to leave. Instead, they simply started hitting us with clubs, very forcefully and painfully, as if those sitting in front of them were criminals and murderers. When I tried to go out, and despite my telling the Yassamniks that I was going on my own and that I didn't need to be dragged or hit, they struck me for no reason: They smashed my head against the wall, kicked me in my back, threw me on the floor, and hit me very hard with their clubs on my head, eyes and nose, to the point where I was severely and painfully injured.

"All this occurred as I was asking them to be allowed to leave the house. Up to this very minute, the feelings of dread and fear pursue me, entirely shaking up my feelings towards the law, the police, the army, the Supreme Court, and all the government institutions.

"I would be very happy if your honor would respond to this letter, which is written from the depths of my heart. Why, when you saw these things happening to me and my friends (there are tens of testimonies), did you not intervene and stop the evacuation? Why did you not tell the truth when you were interviewed?

"How could you have planned and approved such a sensitive mission as the evacuation of parts of the Land of Israel with orders for such terrible violence against the most idealistic youths in Israeli society?

"I am sad to say to you, General Naveh, that it will be hard for me to forget or forgive those who injured me so severely, or to those who commanded those forces - unless I receive a reasonable explanation and a public apology from all the elements who hurt me and my friends with no justification. It is very unfortunate that precisely in the year before my enlistment in the army, and after having received an invitation to apply for the Israel Air Force pilots' course and for the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, this is the slap in the fact that my friends and I receive.

Enclosed is my photograph, taken after the police battle in evacuating me from the house in Amona. Signed with sorrow, with thanks and blessing, Yaakov Tessler."

World Jewish Congress Launches Anti-Iran Campaign

By Ha'aretz

The World Jewish Congress has launched a campaign against Iran following the nuclear crisis and the anti-Semitic statements of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In its biannual gathering in Jerusalem on Thursday the WJC called on Jewish communities throughout the world to pressure their governments to act against the Iranian nuclear program and urge economic and political sanctions against Iran. The WJC also called on Jewish communities to act to change their countries' energy policy so that they decrease the dependence on oil.

The president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, Alexander Mashkevich, called on the WJC to prepare for the possible emigration of Iran's Jews. "It's our responsibility to prepare for the unexpected. It is not clear what their condition is and what their fate will be, and if they want to leave, we should not be surprised." He said an estimated 30,000 Jews live in Iran, and that it is extremely hard to maintain contact with them.

Mashkevich, who emigrated from Kazakhstan, said the former Iranian foreign minister had authorized his visit to the Jewish communities in Iran, but after Ahmadinejad's election, the visit was canceled.

The WJC is a world Jewish organization, not a Zionist one, and sees itself as the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people.

The chairman of the WJC's Policy Council, Rabbi Israel Singer, told Ha'aretz on Thursday that despite the risk of the Iranian regime's harming the Jewish community, the congress decided to debate the issue.

"The Jews in Iran have been living there for 2,700 years, from the days of Queen Esther. They remained there despite the wars and Zionism, and are aware of their situation. We are working for them, not against them," he said.

Singer said Jewish communities around the world must make it clear to their governments that the Iranian regime threatens not only the Jews with its utterances and nuclear activity, but all the countries in the world.

The WJC's strategy is not to spearhead the move against Iran, but to encourage countries to act themselves against Iran. "The Iranian nation is very civilized and its majority doe not support the regime's acts. We must convey the message that it endangers the whole world in sophisticated methods, like blogs and other means to prevent another world war," Singer said.

Danish Newspaper Cancels Plans to Republish Cartoons About Israel

By Ha'aretz

The Danish newspaper that created a storm in the Arab world by publishing cartoons of the prophet Mohammed has canceled plans to reprint several cartoons dealing with Israel, a senior editor told Ha'aretz.

"We wanted to show that we make fun of everyone, not only Muslims," said Pierre Collignon of Jyllands-Posten. "But for fear of being misunderstood, we canceled the plan at the last moment."

One cartoon that was to be published on Sunday depicted a Star of David, to which a bomb with a burning fuse had been attached. The same artist who drew the cartoon of the prophet Mohammed with a "ticking bomb" on his head drew this cartoon, which has been published in the newspaper in the past.

"We wanted to show that even the Jews, with all the historic sensitivity, accepted satire aimed at their sacred symbols without staging angry demonstrations."

Meanwhile, a Jyllands-Posten's editor said on CNN yesterday that he would cooperate with the Iranian daily Hamshahri, which announced a competition of cartoons on the Holocaust. However, the newspaper hastened to issue a denial. Editor-in-chief Carsten Juste said the editor had been misunderstood. "On no account would we publish Holocaust caricatures together with the Iranian daily," he said.

Syria: Israel Behind Bird Flu

By Ha'aretz

The state-run Syrian daily al-Thawra lately hinted that Israel developed the bird flu virus to harm the genes of its Arab neighbors.

An article published by the newspaper argues that Israel spread the virus in the Far East to mislead the world. The newspaper backed its suspicions by citing a 1998 report in the Sunday Times that Israel is developing a biological "ethnic bomb" that would kill Arabs and not Jews.

According to the Times, Israeli scientists are trying to identify genes characteristic to Arabs and then develop viruses that attack these genes. The newspaper said the program is being carried out at the Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tsiona near Tel Aviv.

"The question being asked today is whether the virus chosen by the Zionist for their 'ethnic bomb' is bird flu?" the newspaper wrote.

The newspaper said that Israel buried 85,000 infected birds in the West Bank, which could have infected a Palestinian from Jerusalem with Avian Flu. "If the virus is designed to hurt Arab genes specifically, it will nevertheless spread beyond the Arab world," the paper argued, adding that the whole world will suffer from an uncontrollable pandemic.

The paper also accused Israel of killing Yasir Arafat using biological viruses that can be used against the Arabs. "We recall that the assassination of Yasir Arafat was done using a biologically engineered virus to which only the Zionists had a remedy," the paper wrote.

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