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Early Christian Writings: has been described as "the most complete collection of documents from the first two centuries with translations and commentary. Includes the New Testament, Apocrypha, Gnostics, and Church Fathers." Entries include links to the online texts (a variety of translations), to online and offline resources about the text, and a brief article about the text.

Israel Says US Should Take Lead in Dealing with Iran's Nuclear Program

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel has reacted cautiously to Iran's announcement that it has successfully enriched uranium. Israeli officials said the international community and especially the United States must take the lead in pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Israel has for some time warned of Iran's nuclear ambitions and the danger they pose. Tuesday's announcement from Tehran raised the level of concern when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proudly announced that Iran had successfully enriched uranium - the essential building block to produce both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

That development came as no surprise, said Israeli lawmaker Yuval Steinitz, who heads the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "I said three or four months ago that I assume this spring the Iranians will make such an achievement and such an announcement and now it should be clear and obvious that the Iranians are running to [toward developing] nuclear bombs if there will be no serious obstacles."

Israeli officials have dismissed Iran's assurances that it seeks only peaceful nuclear power and not weapons. Some have indicated that if the international community does not take a tougher approach toward Tehran, Israel might consider a unilateral military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

But Israel's military chief of staff, Gen. Dan Halutz, cautioned against reaching, what he called "foregone conclusions." He said it would take some time before Iran achieves real nuclear capability and much can change in the meantime.

Israeli political leader and elder statesman Shimon Peres called for patience and diplomacy. He told Israel Radio the United States is already taking the lead on this issue and he said Israel should hold back even in its rhetoric.

So far, international diplomacy has not succeeded in stopping Iran's nuclear plans and recent American news reports have said that the Bush administration is studying military strike options against Iran's nuclear facilities.

U.S. officials were quick to describe those reports as mere speculation. "The United States of America is on a diplomatic track. That is the president's decision. That's where our European allies are," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Israeli lawmaker Yuval Steinitz doubts that diplomacy or even tough sanctions would be effective against Iran. "They're so close to their goal to threaten not just the Middle East and Israel, but the entire world because now they're building missiles with the range of Europe already and the next generation [of missiles] will reach the east coast of the United States," he said. "I'm skeptical if they will give up due to pressure. Let's hope so."

Israel's own nuclear capability is often described as an "open secret." Israel will neither confirm nor deny that it has nuclear weapons, but outside experts believe it has 100 to 200 nuclear warheads in its arsenal.

Steinitz said the threat of a nuclear Iran is serious enough to consider other options. "I think the West, under the leadership of the United States, will have to consider also brute force in order to pre-empt and prevent a devastating threat to world peace - nuclear weapons in the hands of fundamentalist ayatollahs that are ready to sacrifice millions."

But, said Steinitz, military force might not be necessary if Iran is convinced that such an option is under serious consideration. He said that could be the "big stick" that might make Tehran think twice.

25 Al Aqsa Terrorists Raid PA Offices in Ramallah

By and VOA News

Intra-Arab friction continued Thursday when 25 Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terrorists raided Palestinian Authority governmental offices in Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. The Brigade is the military wing of the Fatah party movement, which was roundly defeated by Hamas terrorists in recent PA legislative elections.

The armed gang raided the central government offices and the transportation ministry offices, where they forced workers to leave. They were protesting the new transportation minister's freezing an order by his Fatah predecessor granting public vehicles to families of soldiers, prisoners and wanted terrorists.

The gunmen stayed for about an hour, before they were persuaded to leave by a police contingent that arrived at the scene.

Palestinians Hope for Outside Donations Amid Money Crisis

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

The new Hamas-led Palestinian government has turned to the Internet and television ads for donations from average people, amid an increasing cash crisis that threatens the government's ability to function at the most basic level. The crisis has been brought on by cuts in assistance from Western donor countries.

Hamas launched a somewhat unusual fundraising drive this week via Web sites and advertisements on Arab television stations asking donors to send money to an account at a bank in Cairo to help the Palestinian people.

Speaking on Palestinian radio, Planning Minister Samir Abu Aisha explained the effort. He said the fund drive is not expected to be a main source of income, but rather a symbolic gesture, one of sharing among Arabs to show their support for the Palestinian people.

The fundraising effort is being sponsored by the Cairo-based Arab League during an increasing cash crisis in the new Hamas-led Palestinian government. Shortly after its election victory in January, Hamas was openly shunned by its most important Western donors, who consider it a terrorist organization.

Money was cut off. Israel stopped the transfer of tax and customs duties it collects on behalf of the Palestinian government, and the United States and Europe said they would stop millions of dollars in direct aid to a Hamas government. They have, however, promised to continue funding direct humanitarian programs for Palestinians.

Initially Hamas said it would make up the difference by appealing to Arab and Muslim nations. But despite supportive rhetoric, Palestinian officials say most Arab countries have not come through on their pledges.

Palestinian authorities acknowledge they are millions of dollars short in covering the payroll for civil servants and March paychecks are overdue. Planning Minister Samir Abu Aisha said he hopes to have some good news in the days to come. The minister said talks have been under way with countries that have large Muslim populations, including Turkey, Indonesia, and Malaysia for some immediate relief to the cash crisis.

Olmert's Vacation Ruins Neighbors' Holiday


Residents of a moshav in the Galilee complained Thursday night that the vacation of Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruined their Passover holiday. One resident reported that in the early morning hours, noisy trucks began unloading equipment for security walls and electronic equipment.

Olmert and his family chose the moshav as a vacation spot for the Passover holiday. One news source noted that the house where was vacationing operated without a business permit.

The Level of the Dead Sea Keeps on Decreasing

By Ha'aretz

A stroll along the Dead Sea's beaches may be the most depressing Passover trip you could take. Everywhere around this international asset there are signs of impending ecological doom, so you better hurry and visit now. By the time your children have grown up, there may be nothing to see, and no sea to float in.

The Dead Sea, the lowest place in the world, has been drying up swiftly in the recent decades - every year the water level goes down by an average of 1.2 meters (nearly four feet). In certain places, the water has receded two kilometers (1.25 miles) or more from the beach since the 1960s. Its southern panhandle is totally dry.

The drying process has been accompanied, among other things, by the opening of huge sinkholes, strong floods, which have destroyed a road parallel to the sea, and the drying up of nature reserves in the area. The region's residents speak of an "ecological disaster," and say nature is fighting back man. They occasionally talk about having to leave communities, industry and tourism along the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea's drying up is not a heavenly decree but man-made. It began in the 1960s when, as part of the National Water Carrier project, authorities blocked the Kinneret's waters from reaching the sea. Later they blocked the Yarmuch River stream's flow, and the Jordan River, the Dead Sea's main source, dried up in the section south of Beit Shean.

Stopping the Jordan's water from reaching the Dead Sea, and not water pumping conducted by the Dead Sea Works, is the main reason for its sinking sea level.

All authorities have been aware of the situation for at least 20 years, and are trying to think of a solution. The trendiest one is building a channel from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, but the technical and ecological problems of such a plan appear insurmountable.

Many experts say the only real way to save the sea is by open the Degania dam in the Kinneret, and let the Jordan River flow. But then, the water deficit would shift from the Dead Sea to Israel's water system.

"Someone decided in the 1950s to take the water from the Jordan, grow oranges and sell them in Europe," the Nature and Parks Authority inspector in the region, Eli Dror, said. "The price of this decision is being paid by nature, tourism and infrastructure. Nobody asked us if we're willing to pay it."

The northernmost corner of the Dead Sea is perhaps the last place that remains unharmed. The beach is steep, so the water's recession is less apparent. Several beaches operate in the area. The largest, Biankini Beach, and the resort village around it, were built by Dina Dagan.

Until four years, she was operating a pub by the same name in Jerusalem. One night she noticed a bomb that a terrorist had placed in the pub. Dagan removed it, and called the police. She decided to move to the Dead Sea after that.

"I wanted a quieter place," she said. The northern beaches are also a popular resort site for Palestinian families from the West Bank. However, they have almost stopped arriving due to roadblocks.

The Einot Zukim reserve - Ein Feshka in Arabic - is a 10-minute drive away. Once it was one of the most popular beaches, with shallow water and fresh water pools. "The sea was here in 1967," a sign on dry land says. The sea cannot even be seen on the horizon.

A few kilometers south is Kibbutz Mitzpeh Shalem's Mineral Beach. The floods have destroyed its entrance, and visitors must use an improvised earth path.

There always have been floods in the Judean desert, but in recent years, they have become stronger and have caused greater damage. The lower the sea sinks, the experts say, the greater the force of water coming down from the mountains.

The water and powerful floods also have made it difficult to maintain the Dead Sea road. "One day the Public Works Authority may decide it is impossible to maintain it any longer, and that it's better to operate a helicopter service to Ein Gedi," Dror says.

The flora and fauna in the region along the Dead Sea and Judean Desert reserves also suffer from the receding water level, which has altered the stream tracks. As a result, large areas that had been watered by the floods are drying up.

Near Mineral Beach, one encounters the region's most urgent problem - the sinkholes, pits opening up as a result of the sinking sea level, which is accompanied by changes in the groundwater flow. The problem began in the last decade. Dozens of the threatening holes can be seen 20 meters (65 feet) from the road. The small ones look like harmless holes, the large ones are dozens of meters in diameter.

"I was the first to discover a sinkhole in the Ein Gedi parking lot," says Yigal of Vered Jericho. "At first, I thought it was a burst pipe, and we filled it up with earth. But the hole returned. We brought a tractor and filled it up, and it reappeared. Then we poured a whole truckload of earth in. In a few days, the earth disappeared and the hole returned."

That was in 1995. A year and a half later, Gavriel Hadas of Ein Gedi, fell into a sinkhole that opened beneath his feet in the date grove. He was injured and hospitalized. The area's residents continued regarding the strange holes as isolated incidents. But then a worker in the Ein Gedi resort village fell into a sinkhole that had opened up in the pavement and collapsed beneath her feet. She was injured. The Tamar Regional Council's engineer ordered the site shut down, and the sinkholes turned from a geological issue into an economic problem.

Yigal is very worried about the sea's receding. "Take a photograph, come in a year's time, and you'll see another terrace of land exposed. Why don't they give the Jordan's water back to the sea?" he asks.

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