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Report: Hostage, Captors Holed Up in Bunker


An Israeli soldier abducted by Palestinian gunmen reportedly is being held in a bunker in the Gaza Strip. Quoting Arab mediators who have been trying to secure the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that he has been holed up along with his seven captors in an underground bunker. Shalit's captors have refused to release him and Israel has refused a ransom demand that it free jailed Palestinians.

Israeli Air Strike Kills Palestinian, Terrorists' Rockets Hit Israeli City

By VOA News & Ha'aretz

Palestinian terrorists fired a second Kassam rocket at the Israeli city of Ashkelon - as Israeli tanks advanced in the Gaza Strip in an effort to halt such attacks. Israeli officials said no one was injured in the rocket attack late Wednesday.

Eight people were lightly wounded Wednesday evening in the Kassam strikes on Ashkelon. One of the rockets slammed into a southern neighborhood and the second landed in the Zikim area. Eight people suffered from shock, including two seven-year-old children, and were treated by Magen David Adom paramedics.

Hamas' military wing claimed responsibility for the two Kassam rockets fired into Ashkelon.

David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, said "Israel will not allow its cities and towns to be bombarded by Palestinian rocket attacks. We will take the necessary steps to put an end to these attacks and to allow our citizens to live in peace in their own homes and communities. The firing of rockets at Ashkelon is a serious escalation taken by Palestinian terrorists. Israel will not tolerate these attacks or any other attack on its citizens and we will deal with this threat appropriately."

Palestinians first hit Ashkelon with a Kassam on Tuesday evening. Defense Minister Amir Peretz subsequently instructed the military to intensify its operations and Israel Air Force missiles hit the Palestinian Interior Ministry building in Gaza City in a pre-dawn strike Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the security cabinet met Wednesday morning to discuss Israel's response to the first Kassam strike on the city Tuesday evening. The strike on Ashkelon was the furthest north that a Kassam fired from Gaza has reached. The rocket hit an empty parking lot of the ORT Ronson High School building, causing light damage but no injuries.

The Hamas military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, on Tuesday night claimed credit for the attack on Ashkelon.

The group said the rocket was an upgraded version of the original Kassam, reaching a range of 10 miles. But the IDF later disputed the claim, saying the rocket possessed a range of 7.5 miles.

The army says the rocket was launched from the northern-most point of the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun. The dual-engined rocket traversed the longest distance of a projectile ever launched from the Gaza Strip.

"This is a major escalation in the war of terror that the Hamas organization is responsible for," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a Tuesday night speech at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones. The attack was an "attempt meant to harm Israeli civilians that live within the sovereign borders of Israel, and it will have far-reaching consequences," the prime minister continued. "The Hamas organization will be the first to feel this."

Meanwhile, Palestinians said Israeli tanks advanced in northern Gaza. A large contingent of Israel Defense Forces infantry and armor units began moving into the ruins of the former settlements of Nissanit, Dugit and Elei Sinai in northern Gaza late Wednesday, after Kassam rockets fired from the area hit the southern coastal city of Ashkelon for the second time in two days.

A permanent military presence in the northern end of the Gaza Strip will distance the Kassam fire from Ashkelon and - with massive air support - is liable to make rocket attacks from the northern village of Beit Hanun much more difficult.

Palestinians said that a Hamas militant and a coastal policeman were killed Wednesday night, the former in an Israel Air Force strike and the latter in an explosion on a northern Gaza beach.

Israel denied that the blast on Beit Lahiya's beach had been caused by shelling from a Navy gunship, but a military spokesman confirmed IAF aircraft attacked a cell of terrorists planting explosives near the border.

Also Wednesday, witnesses said a car carrying reporters from the Al-Jazeera Arabic satellite TV channel came under fire by terrorists in Beit Lahiya shortly before midnight. One of the wounded reporters, Wael Dahdouh, said the militants apparently believed the car to be carrying undercover Israeli agents.

The initial rocket attack late Tuesday on Ashkelon marked the first time one of the terrorists' rockets hit the center of a major Israeli city. That attack caused no casualties. The armed wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Hamas controls the Palestinian government.

Suicide Terrorists Stopped En-Route to Attacks


A major terrorist attack in central Israel was thwarted Wednesday afternoon, when a large-scale manhunt found the suicide terrorists in a taxicab near Ariel. A second cell was caught in Bethlehem.

Around noon, a specific warning was received of a planned attack by suicide terrorists who had already set out on their way. Checkpoints and roadblocks were quickly erected, police were deployed in large numbers, and traffic was held up in many areas in western Shomron.

Arab taxis were isolated, and in the Barkan Industrial Zone, the forces closed in on a number of vehicles, until the terrorists were found, neutralized and arrested. The would-be mass-murderers were then taken into custody of the General Security Service. Outside Jericho Wednesday, IDF and Border Guard forces surrounded the house of a long-wanted terrorist and demanded his surrender. When the man tried to escape, the forces opened fire and killed him. A bomb was later found in his house. The dead Fatah terrorist was one of the murderers of taxi driver Simcha Ron in April 2001.

Later in the day, IDF forces arrested two women in Bethlehem for planning a suicide terrorist attack against Jews. One is suspected of devising and coordinating the attack, and the other was to have carried it out.

An Invitation to War

By Ze'ev Schiff (Commentary))

The firing of a rocket from the Gaza Strip to Ashkelon's center Tuesday (and Wednesday) constitutes an unequivocal invitation by Hamas to war. The Palestinians who launched the rocket apparently are members of the Hamas military wing, but it's quite possible that either an Iranian or Syrian element interested in intensifying the military conflict with Israel spurred the move.

The firing is the longest-range rocket attack to have taken place from Palestinian territory. Rockets previously have hit Ashkelon's outskirts, and were generally aimed at the area's power station, but Israel refrained from cutting off electricity to Gaza.

It's quite possible that the rocket that hit Ashkelon is a Russian-made Grad, which has a longer range than the Qassam. Such rockets were smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Egypt, probably through border crossings near the Philadelphi line. Tuesday's rocket hit a parking lot of an empty school, but it could have landed anywhere in Ashkelon at any time of day.

In firing a rocket into Ashkelon, the Palestinians circumvented the Israel Defense Forces armored column that has entered the northern Gaza Strip. The move is an attempt to create a new balance given the IDF's activity in their territory. If Israel strikes a power station in Gaza and if the offices of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh are destroyed, then the Palestinians will use their rockets to show they have the military power to provide a counterbalance.

The significance of (the) rocket attack for Israel is that the current round of war - in which Hamas maintains control of the street, especially in the Gaza Strip - will be a tough one, because over time, the Palestinians have armed themselves with many weapons and rockets. Another difficulty for Israel is the existence of multiple Palestinian groups, including "pirate" groups that aren't always in contact with each other, and the existence of competing leaders within Hamas itself.

Over the past week, Israeli leaders have repeatedly threatened about what the Palestinians can expect if they do not release Gilad Shalit, the soldier they are holding captive. It's clear that the problem is no longer limited to how to save Shalit's life. This is a direct confrontation with Hamas, other Palestinian organizations, and their supporters among the Palestinian public.

Hamas has intensified its approach, and Israel is left with little choice other than coping with this threat, as any other country would certainly do. Israel is in a complicated situation. It must choose between agreeing to a prisoner swap, exchanging military blows with the Palestinians that will not lead Israel anywhere, and intensifying its offensive in order to topple the Hamas government. Israel will probably choose the latter option.

Whatever it decides, Israel will have to think hard about an exit strategy, even though it doesn't generally take such concepts into account in its war on terror. It's also clear that Israel will encounter major difficulty in explaining its position to the world. It is not at all certain that Israel will have the upper hand, even though it's facing a terrorist organization calling for its destruction.

6 Million Victims, 6 Million Pennies


Six million is a number too large to imagine, especially when it refers to the number of Jews killed during the Holocaust. To help understand the scope of the Jewish tragedy, the Jewish Community Center of the Greater Palm Beaches (Florida) is collecting six million pennies to honor the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust.

As a silent and constant reminder of the great loss, the Harold & Sylvia Kaplan branch of the center has already stacked one million pennies in a Lucite tower in its lobby.

JCC volunteers recently completed the first tower, filled with pennies weighing 3,500 pounds. Donors are filling another pillar, which has about 300,000 pennies, at the Hochman branch of the JCC in Boynton Beach. Another tower will be constructed using 200,000 coins.

"Every year, as we teach our children about the most horrific period in Jewish history, we find ourselves puzzled by the impossible task of explaining six million," says JCC Judaic Enrichment Director Yaron Kapitulnik. "How can one grasp the concept, the lives that were taken and those that were never born?"

According to the report, since the project started two years ago, donors have been emptying their wallets, collecting at their synagogues, making requests in their bar or bat mitzvah invitations and sending containers of pennies by mail.

Some were inspired by the film Paper Clips, in which Tennessee students sought to gather 6 million paper clips to honor Holocaust victims, while others say they were motivated by the enormity of the challenge.

In order to add another challenge to the project, the JCC is collecting names and memories of Holocaust victims who may not be registered at Yad Vashem. Kapitulnik hopes the penny project will be completed during the coming year. The collected $60,000 would be donated to Holocaust remembrance projects.

Aliyah 2006: Here They Come!


This summer, 2,000 new immigrants from North America, France and Great Britain will arrive in Israel on 10 special flights sponsored by the Jewish Agency, in conjunction with two organizations specializing in immigration and absorption assistance: North America-based group "Nefesh B'Nefesh" and France-based group AMI (Aliyah Meilleur Integration). According to Jewish Agency estimates, 24,000 people, from countries all over the world, will immigrate to Israel during 2006, up from the 22,657 people who made aliyah in 2005.

During the summer months, six El Al flights will land in Israel carrying 1,500 new immigrants from North America. By the end of the year, it is estimated that there will be a total of 3,400 new immigrants from North America, up from 2,987 in 2005.

In parallel, three special ISRAIR flights - two from Paris and one from Marseille - will land in Israel on July 25th, bringing 650 new immigrants from France. This is the first time in decades that such a large number of French immigrants have arrived in one day. There are expected to be 3,500 new immigrants from France this year, as opposed to 3005 in 2005.

Also this summer, for the first time, there will be a special El Al flight from Great Britain bringing 100 new immigrants. Since the beginning of the year, there has been a marked rise in immigration from Great Britain. By the end of May, the number of new immigrants from Britain was 219, up from 134 over the same period last year. By the end of the year 2006, 500 British immigrants are expected to have arrived in Israel.

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