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Gas Prices Increasing on Saturday Night


Gasoline prices will increase by 5.2% on Saturday night, with 96 octane fuel selling for NIS 6.01 a liter, the equivalent of $5.13 per US gallon. All stations will be required to offer at least one self-service pump with the price being at least 11 agorot ($0.013) less per liter, or a full-service pump with the reduced price.

Arab Bomber Dressed as Jewish Hitchhiker Murders Three


An Arab terrorist from Fatah's Al-Aksa Brigade dressed as a Jewish hitchhiker and blew himself up inside the car of those who picked him up near Kedumim, in Samaria - murdering three Jews, a couple and a young woman.

The attack took place at 10 p.m. Thursday near the gas station and hitchhiking station adjacent to the town of Kedumim. The terror group released a statement saying the bomber was a 24-year-old from Hebron.

Shortly following the explosion, police believed the blast was a terrorist bomb that detonated prematurely, killing the bomber inside. The vehicle was engulfed in flames so preliminary reports took over an hour to begin to reflect the reality.

It now appears that the bomber dressed as a Jew, wearing a kippa (yarmulke) and Hassidic garb and was given a ride by the unsuspecting occupants of the Israeli vehicle. He then blew himself up inside, killing three passengers. Reports say the bomber also died in the incident. The Israeli reports say the bomber set off his explosives in a car near a gas station. It remains unclear whether the terrorist was wearing an explosives belt or a rucksack with explosives.

Israel's Kadima Faces Reality of Coalition Politics

By Jim Teeple (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israelis went to the polls this week to vote in their fifth election in 10 years. Many people in Israel said it was the most important election in years, but voter apathy was high.

Many voters chose to ignore the big issues championed by Israel's large parties and instead voted for smaller parties that backed single issues. Israeli voters sent a mixed message to their leaders in this election, and one that will make the task of governing and of reaching a settlement with the Palestinians difficult.

It was not the mandate that Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he wanted. Just days before the vote, Olmert's Kadima Party was riding high in the polls. Political pundits said Kadima would win 35 seats in the 120-seat Knesset and be able to dictate its terms to prospective coalition partners.

What emerged was something different. Kadima won only 28 seats, far fewer than 40 seats that the conservative Likud Party won in Israel's last election in 2003, winning just eight more seats than the left-of-center Labor Party, a likely coalition partner.

Asher Arian is a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a professor of political science at the City University of New York. He says the Kadima Party, founded last year by Ariel Sharon before he suffered his stroke, has lost its momentum.

"Well, the Kadima Party was a very momentous development and had Sharon been well and seen it through to the election my guess is that the results would be quite different," he said. "As it is, it seems to have fizzled out a little bit too early in the sense that Kadima is too small to be a driving force in Israeli politics for the next four years. Kadima will run the country, but it will be very, very dependent on coalition partners."

That might not be a bad thing says Mahdi Abdul Hadi, who runs PASSIA, a Palestinian policy institute based in East Jerusalem. Abdul Hadi says if Kadima can form a coalition with the Labor Party and other parties that support the peace process there might be real progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

"If Olmert will succeed in forming a government with the Labor Party and with other leftists, he will be in a better position to look for the 'road map' peace plan and for negotiations," he said.

Olmert said he would follow Ariel Sharon's plan to set Israel's final border with the Palestinians. He said he intends to accomplish the task in the next parliamentary term, either by following the internationally-backed road map peace plan or unilaterally if necessary.

Abdul Hadi said Palestinian decision makers he has spoken with say they can do little but wait and see how the Israeli-coalition building develops. "I am very much concerned about Olmert's agenda, the unilateralism thesis of Mr. Sharon," he admitted. "And some [Palestinians] are saying he will not be able to go ahead with the plan since he needs coalition. Others are saying it will be a real setback to the whole process and we will continue living in the culture of a prison."

Asher Arian of the Israel Democracy Institute said Olmert's plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank would have been difficult to achieve even if Kadima had won an outright majority. Having to rely on potentially unreliable coalition partners will make the task even more difficult.

"Had he won a commanding majority and had there been a sense that this was indeed a referendum on his plan, and that the referendum had passed, then it would be possible for him to deal with the tens of thousands of settlers," Arian said. "Recall that the Gaza pullout involved about 8,000 Jewish settlers. Now you are talking about 10 times that number and so it is going to be very difficult in terms of money, in terms of confrontation, and in terms of political will to pull this off."

Arian said Olmert does not have much time to achieve his historic objective. Coalition partners eager for a plum government post might be willing to support a controversial West Bank pullout in the near term, but he said the longer the process takes the more difficult that will become.

The dream of Sharon to create a new centrist political force in Israeli politics that could set Israel's final border could depend on the cooperation of political parties more interested in raising Israel's minimum wage and improving pension benefits than achieving a lasting settlement between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Next Knesset

By Robert Rosenberg (Analysis)

The final one percent of the votes, from diplomatic legations, the handful of Israelis still working as merchant marines, soldiers, prisoners and hospitalized patients, added a seat to Kadima and Meretz and took away a seat apiece from Shas and Yisrael Beitenu, putting the Kadima-Labor-Pensioners-Meretz coalition (without Arabs or religious) at the 61-seat mark.

It's significant for Ehud Olmert, because it means he has a full-fledged majority in parliament for his 'convergence' or 'consolidation' plan (the translation of the Hebrew term 'hitkansut' is still undecided) to withdraw Israeli settlers from the settlements east of the security/separation fence/wall that he wants to turn into Israel's permanent borders if he can't strike a peace deal with the Palestinians.

After all the counting, the new Knesset's characteristics can already be noted: Forty-one of the new members of the Knesset will be new to the professional politics, and there will be 50 percent more retired generals in the Knesset (15, instead of 10), including one woman, Amira Dotan of Kadima. There will also be six former spies.

Another result of the elections will be a very old Knesset -- and not only because of the Pensioners Party. Largely it's because Kadima and other parties sent their youngest candidates to the bottoms of their lists. Thus, while nearly 50 percent of the electorate falls in the 18-39 year-old age bracket, there will only be eight people in that age group in the 17th Knesset.

And speaking of the pensioners, only 43 percent of pensioners are men -- for every 100 male pensioners there are 135 female. But there is only woman in the Pensioners Party faction. And speaking of women, there will only be 17 women MKs, 14 percent of the Knesset. The reason: the religious and Arab parties don't have any women on their lists.

Along with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu, which is sending nine immigrants into the Knesset, Shas is also sending three new immigrants: from Bukhara, Georgia and Ethiopia. It's the Ethiopian, a 33-year-old rabbi named Mazor Bayana, who is particularly beloved by Shas patron Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who handpicks the Shas list. Ovadia, after all, was the first chief rabbi of Israel, back in the 1970s, to determine that the Falash Mura, as they were known in Ethiopia, is indeed a Jewish community

The coming weeks will be about coalition negotiations, which formally begin on Sunday but already began informally the night of the elections. All the potential coalition partners, from Amir Peretz and Yossi Beilin to Binyamin Netanyahu (facing a revolt) and Shas' Eli Yishai have called Ehud Olmert to congratulate him. But Avigdor Lieberman had not called as of this morning. Was it rudeness or poor etiquette, or hardball the way he likes to play it, remains to be seen.

In any case, Peretz appears to have dropped the idea of trying to win the nod from President Moshe Katsav to be the MK to try to form a government. Instead, he is focusing on forming a 'social bloc' made up of Labor, Shas, Meretz and the Pensioners, which could unify their demands and force Olmert to do what he is vowing not to do -- give Peretz the finance ministry. He met with Yishai today at Labor Party headquarters -- both Moroccan born politicians sending a message to Olmert that they might not be a single bloc, but they are coordinated, and it will cost the Kadima leader to bring them into the coalition.

Olmert told Ma'ariv that he will talk with the Likud as well as other parties about joining his coalition. But that's probably just more of the spinning and public negotiation that is underway right now. Netanyahu is going to have his hands full fighting back challenges to his leadership from Silvan Shalom, Limor Livnat, Danny Naveh and perhaps Yisrael Katz, who found out Thursday that he will get into the Knesset as the Likud's 12th MK.

It might be a mistake for Olmert to try to deny Peretz the finance ministry rather than to negotiate around it. Peretz, a self-made man who overcame not only an immigrant's background but legs so badly wounded in an army accident that the doctors said he would never walk again, does not like to be told that he has been ruled out of a game a priori, which is what the opposition to him is trying to do. If Olmert does, in the end, give Peretz the treasury, from where the real domestic policies of the country are conducted by virtue of its hold on the purse strings, the prime minister-designate will be able to argue that it's a guarantee of coalition stability.

In any case, Olmert's people are already saying that they have no real substantive objections to Labor's economic program, but they are dubious about some of Shas' hopes for reinstating large-scale welfare arrangements that Netanyahu, under Sharon, wiped out. Most of those payments that Shas wants back are 'anti-work,' meaning they are payments that encourage people to stay out of the labor force.

But there are those who do not like the idea of the mustachioed man from Sderot, who built a political career representing the poor and the workers as head of the Histadrut trade union, taking the reins of an economy that largely depends on Israel's booming high-tech export industries. They're even ready to betray Shaul Mofaz and give Peretz the defense ministry -- as long as he has an ex-general like Ami Ayalon or Matan Vilnai at his side as deputy minister. But if that arrangement would work for them, Peretz could argue he has internationally renowned economist Avishai Braverman at his side as deputy minister. In other words, the negotiations have begun in earnest, even if not formally.

Kadima also apparently has no real problem with the Pensioners Party demands, or even Peretz's vow to raise the minimum wage to a monthly $1,000. And Rafi Eitan, the spymaster turned businessman who heads the Pensioners said Thursday on Channel 10 that his party will recommend to President Kastav that Olmert form the coalition. 'We're all Center,' he said of the Pensioners' seven-member faction.

Meanwhile, Mofaz called a session of the top security brass to discuss developments on the Palestinian side. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has not only OKed a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert but added that if Abbas brings back something that the Palestinian people approved, Hamas would change its positions. And meanwhile, the Hamas' armed wing, known as the Azzadin al Kassam Brigades, are reportedly quietly being integrated into the Palestinian Authority armed forces and definitely have been keeping their weapons in their closets. On the other hand, Damascus-based Khaled Mish'al said that the elections results showed there is no difference between the three major parties in Israel – "and none are ready to talk about the '67 borders, so what's all this talk about reaching political negotiations... resistance is the only way."

And though Hamas' military wing is quiet, Islamic Jihad and the so-called Popular Resistance Committees of Gaza, largely made up of clans that made their living from smuggling and were left out of the negotiations for the ceasefire that the Palestinians unilaterally announced in August 2004, continue to promise to use "armed resistance" to fight the occupation. Islamic Jihad unveiled old-fashioned Katyushas this week, firing one harmlessly out of Gaza toward Ashdod, which has a port and a power station. But the rocket, which has an 18-kilometer range, landed in a field just beyond the fence around the Gaza Strip. Nonetheless, Israeli defense officials -- and the hawks that were voted into the minority this week -- charge that Katyushas in the hands of the armed groups is a strategic threat to Israel.

So, while Haniyeh continues trying to say the right things, it's his actions that will be watched closely. His interior minister, Saeed Seyam, has said the PA armed forces will not try to obstruct "armed resistance" to the occupation but Hamas' finance minister, Omar Abdel-Razeq, has said he wants PA officials serving under him to continue their cooperation with Israeli counterparts for the sake of daily life -- and so far, no orders have gone out to Israeli armed forces to cease communication and coordination with their Palestinian counterparts.

On the other hand, Canada announced it was ending direct aid to the PA but will continue providing aid to NGOs, while the Americans say that as of Wednesday night, their diplomats are banned from meetings with Palestinian government officials who are members of Hamas.

(Copyright 2006 by Robert Rosenberg,

Poland Seeks Name Change for Auschwitz


Poland's new conservative government wants to change the official name of the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz on the UNESCO world heritage registry, an official said Thursday.

The government, led by the Law and Justice Party, hopes to change the name from Auschwitz Concentration Camp to the Former Nazi German Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, Culture Ministry spokesman Jan Kasprzyk said.

Polish officials have complained in the past that foreign media sometimes refer to Auschwitz – a death camp located in occupied Poland where Nazi Germany killed 1.5 million people – as a Polish concentration camp.

That phrasing deeply offends sensitivities in Poland, which was subjected to a brutal occupation by Adolf Hitler's forces. "In the years after the war, the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was definitively associated with the criminal activities of the national-socialist Nazi regime in Germany. However, for the contemporary, younger generations, especially abroad, that association is not universal," Kasprzyk said. "The proposed change in the name leaves no doubt as to what the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was."

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