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Il 

ne dort ni ne sommeille le Gardien d'Israël - Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Ps 121,4)

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ICEJ NEWS SERVICE FROM JERUSALEM

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FRIDAY, 12 JULY 2002

"Behold, the nations are as a drop of the bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales; Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing." Isaiah 40:15

1. ARAFAT SEES HOPE FOR CLINGING TO POWER
Yielding to the advice of senior advisors, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week decided against exiling PLO chief Yasser Arafat, since it has become evident his regime is already "drying up." But with European and Arab leaders refusing to back US calls for his ouster, Arafat appears to have new hopes of surviving, perhaps by accepting a symbolic office while effectively maintaining his grip on power.

NEWS BRIEFS
2. ISRAEL VERIFIES PRISONER SWAP NEAR WITH HIZB'ALLAH
3. IDF SWEEPS FIND BOMBERS, TUNNELS
4. BARGHOUTI TO BE TRIED IN CIVILIAN COURT
5. AMNESTY CONDEMNS PALESTINIAN "CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY"
6. ISRAELI REPORT DETAILS SAUDI FUNDING OF PALESTINIAN TERROR
7. US JEWISH GROUP OFFERS ISRAEL BOMB-SNIFFER DOGS
8. BURG CHIDES BUSH FOR TRYING TO OUST ARAFAT
9. KNESSET VOTES DOWN OSLO INQUIRY

NOTE TO READERS: The reports in today's E-mail edition of ICEJ NEWS are abbreviated versions of the more complete reports available on the ICEJ Web site at www.icej.org/

*****

1. ARAFAT SEES HOPE FOR CLINGING TO POWER

Yielding to the advice of senior advisors, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week decided against exiling PLO chief Yasser Arafat, since it has become evident his regime is already "drying up." But with European and Arab leaders refusing to back US calls for his ouster, Arafat appears to have new hopes of surviving, perhaps by accepting a symbolic office while effectively maintaining his grip on power.

Under pressure from the right and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, Sharon had leaned over recent months towards exiling Arafat. But ever since US President George W. Bush delivered his landmark speech on June 24 calling for his replacement, there is a growing consensus among top Israeli diplomatic and security officials that it is no longer advisable to send Arafat packing, since it risks fomenting a regional crisis.

Cabinet Minister Reuven Rivlin, a close Sharon ally, confirmed Thursday the government has "decided on the lesser of two evils, that leaving Arafat isolated [in Ramallah] is better than exiling him."

Sharon seems to have conceded the point after newly installed IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon counseled the top brass that Arafat should be allowed to "dry up," a process he suggested was already well under way.

But Arafat does not see it that way. In an interview with CNN broadcast on Thursday, he reminded that Bush never mentioned him by name in the recent US policy statement, thus suggesting that Washington is flexible concerning his fate. And with the European Union and key Arab rulers reluctant to endorse Bush's call for wholesale changes in the Palestinian leadership, Arafat has reason to be optimistic he can survive politically - like so many times before.

In his speech, Bush cautioned that Palestinian reforms "must be more than cosmetic changes or a veiled attempt to preserve the status quo" if the Palestinians are to fulfill their aspirations for a state alongside Israel.

And on Thursday, US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told Israeli TV Channel 2 the reforms demanded by the Bush administration must completely transform the Palestinian Authority. "We really came to the conclusion that new leadership needed to emerge in order to be able to move forward," she said.

"This is not about one man, this is not about chairman Arafat, this is a political system that needs to change so that we can have accountability in institutions, a natural transparency... security services that are accountable," she said.

"Never again should one man hold sway over the lives of an entire Palestinian population," Rice said of Arafat's authoritarian style.

But later Thursday, Arafat told CNN, "no one can bypass the Palestinian people and their choice of their leader." He added that he opposes suicide bombings, and was doing everything in his power to prevent them.

When asked how he could continue in power given Bush's call for his ouster, Arafat noted that "officially" Bush had never used his name in the speech, thus implying there was an opening to stay.

Nabil Sha'ath, a senior PA minister, also sounded a defiant note yesterday, saying the US was the only country seeking Arafat's ouster.

And on Friday, Arafat insisted he had no immediate plans to step down from power. "I have been elected by the people. I am not a coward. I'm not ready to betray the people who elected me," Arafat said.

He also refused to say whether he would run in January elections. "It is not only up to me. It will be up to many people," Arafat told the AP.

Arafat went on with business as usual this week, with reports indicating former Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan has been appointed as his new national security advisor. The two were supposed to meet to discuss the appointment when Dahlan returned from abroad on Friday.

Dahlan has said he turned down the post of interior minister, which would have given him control over the PA's security services and police, after Arafat told him that he was reserving unto himself the power to make appointments and fire security officials.

Dahlan has been touted as a potential successor to Arafat acceptable to the US, despite a series of obvious flaws that should disqualify him. He has profited from high level PA corruption, has been linked to specific terror attacks on Israeli communities in Gaza, and maintains close relations with Hamas, including top bomb-maker and childhood friend Mohammed Deif.

*****

2. ISRAEL VERIFIES PRISONER SWAP NEAR WITH HIZB'ALLAH

After days of conflicting reports, Israeli security officials confirmed Friday that there has been some progress in German-mediated negotiations between Israel and the Hizb'Allah terror militia over a prisoner exchange.

The Israeli officials did not say how soon the deal might be implemented, simply adding "the ball is in the Hizb'Allah's court."

According to the deal, Israel is to return 17 Lebanese prisoners and bodies of several Hizb'Allah men, in exchange for Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli businessman kidnapped in Europe by the radical Islamic faction last October, and for the bodies of three IDF soldiers abducted along the northern border weeks earlier and now presumed dead. The IDF soldiers are Omar Asuad, Benny Avraham and Adi Avitan.

A Lebanese newspaper is claiming that the swap includes the release and exile of jailed senior Fatah militia leader Marwan Barghouti, although Israeli sources are denying this report. It is known that Palestinian and Hizb'Allah officials are coordinating their demands in the negotiations.

Rumors of a pending deal were fueled this week by a German paper's report that talks on an exchange were at a "very promising stage." On Thursday, Hizb'Allah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said there has been "some progress" made in the negotiations, but denied a deal had been struck.

*****

3. IDF SWEEPS FIND BOMBERS, TUNNELS

Israeli security forces continue to wage an unending battle against Palestinian terrorism, pursuing suicide bombers poised to strike and searching for weapons smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border.

The IDF knows of at least 15 would-be suicide bombers primed to carry out attacks inside Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer warned on Thursday. Palestinian terror militias also have several car bombs rigged and ready, Ben-Eliezer said - and if the IDF were not in the territories, these suicide bombers and car bombs would already have made their way into Israel.

Meanwhile, the IDF over recent days continued its wide-scale operations in Palestinian areas, arresting dozens more terror suspects, including several suicide bombers. They also seized weapons and explosives and unearthed yet another underground tunnel in southern Gaza, the 13th arms smuggling tunnel discovered in the past three months.

An IDF captain was shot dead earlier this week while his troops searched for tunnels in the Rafah area. Israel estimates there are at least 40 more tunnels operating along the border, some with very sophisticated features, including intercoms and rails for trolleys.

Israel charges that Egyptian border guards are either taking bribes to turn a blind eye to the tunneling activity or are involved in the weapons trafficking themselves. Meanwhile, some Israelis complain, Egypt is being entrusted with a key role in "reforming" and rebuilding the Palestinian security apparatus.

Early Friday morning, a "massive" gun-battle erupted in central Gaza when an elite Israeli commando unit searching a refugee camp for terror fugitives came under fire, leaving a PA naval officer and a 13-year-old Palestinian youth dead. According to Israel Radio, the target of the operation was apprehended, and five other Palestinians were injured by Israeli fire.

In Jenin, a Palestinian photographer died Friday, a day after he was shot by Israeli soldiers, Palestinian doctors said. Imad Abu Zahra, 35, who worked for the Palestinian Wafa news agency, was shot in the leg and bled to death, according to another photographer at the scene. The Israeli military said an armored vehicle stopped after hitting an electricity pole, and Palestinians threw rocks and grenades, then started firing at it. Soldiers returned the fire, the military said. The photographer said the soldiers fired randomly.

In Ramallah, security forces arrested Col. Abdul Rahim Alubani, a senior officer of Force 17, the highest-ranking official in the elite presidential guard to be arrested so far for involvement in terrorist activities.

*****

4. BARGHOUTI TO BE TRIED IN CIVILIAN COURT

Israeli authorities decided on Thursday to prosecute Fatah militia leader Marwan Barghouti and four other top Palestinian terrorists in civilian court because of their connection "to several attacks in Israel," as opposed to attacks carried out in Judea/Samaria.

Barghouti, the general-secretary of PLO chief Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the "West Bank" and head of the Tanzim militia, is the most prominent Palestinian figure to be captured and held by Israel during the 22-month-old armed Palestinian intifada. He was nabbed in Ramallah in mid-April after evading Israeli forces for several weeks, and has been undergoing interrogation at the Russian compound lock-up in Jerusalem.

Palestinian officials say that as a member of the Palestinian legislature, Barghouti enjoys immunity from prosecution. But Israel has linked him to numerous deadly attacks on Israelis, including terror strikes on civilians inside Israel. Besides the testimony of other Fatah militia members in custody implicating Barghouti in these attacks, IDF forces also have found invoices signed by him requesting funds from Arafat to pay Fatah militiamen and buy arms and explosives.

Barghouti has given numerous media interviews boasting of his lead role in instigating and leading the current hostilities against Israel, but he also has denied any direct involvement in terror activities. His stoking of the armed intifada has swelled Barghouti's popularity in the Palestinian street, where polls show him second only to Arafat and gaining.

Israeli authorities have said that he recently acknowledged during questioning his involvement in orchestrating attacks, with the approval of Arafat. His lawyer, Jawad Boulos, denied the claim and says Israel has no jurisdiction to try Barghouti.

Barghouti reportedly has started a hunger strike to protest his prison conditions.

Israel will also try four other suspected Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist leaders in civilian court.

The decision to hold the trials in a civilian court means that most of the proceedings will be open to the press and the public. This is meant to forestall international accusations of an unfair trial.

*****

5. AMNESTY CONDEMNS PALESTINIAN "CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY"

Amnesty International published a groundbreaking report this week that for the first time accuses Palestinian terror militias of committing "crimes against humanity" and possibly "war crimes" through their deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians.

The 44-page report, entitled "Without distinction: Attacks on civilians by Palestinian armed groups," was presented to Israeli President Moshe Katsav and to other governments worldwide this week.

Mia Hasenson, chairwoman of the Israel Section of Amnesty International, said this is the group's first report in which non-government organizations stand accused of crimes against humanity, and suggests the actions constitute war crimes as well, depending on the legal status of the armed Palestinian groups under international humanitarian law. After issuing numerous reports condemning Israeli practices in the disputed territories, Amnesty this time took its most serious look at Palestinian human rights violations.

Amnesty specifically refutes Palestinian claims that they have an internationally recognized right to carry out attacks on Israelis as part of a legitimate "armed struggle" against "occupation."

The Amnesty report counters that: "Attacks on civilians are not permitted under any internationally recognized standard of law, whether they are committed in the context of a struggle against military occupation or any other context. Not only are they considered murder under general principles of law in every national legal system, they are contrary to fundamental principles of humanity which are reflected in international humanitarian law. In the manner in which they are being committed in Israel and the Occupied Territories they also amount to crimes against humanity."

While avoiding the explicit use of the term terrorist "because it does not have an internationally agreed definition," the report instead refers to "attacks against civilians." It calls for the perpetrators to be prosecuted by the Palestinian Authority.

The report notes the PA has given Palestinian militias freedom to operate and they enjoy broad public support.

The report notes that at least 350 civilians were murdered in the 21 months of violence, though official Israeli figures have it at 385.

The report can be viewed at http://web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/recent/MDE020032002!Open

*****

6. ISRAELI REPORT DETAILS SAUDI FUNDING OF PALESTINIAN TERROR

A new Israeli report relayed to the United States lays out evidence of Saudi financing for Palestinian terror militias and families of "martyrs."

According to MENL, the report is based on Palestinian Authority documents captured during the Israeli military offensive in Judea/Samaria in April. The documents detail the flow of funds by Saudi government institutions primarily to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The PA did not receive direct Saudi funding, according to the documents.

One source of funding for Hamas, the report said, was the Riyad-based Saudi Committee for Support of the Palestinian Uprising, Al Quds, an organization headed by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz. The committee reported the transfer of $55.7 million mostly to the families of suicide bombers and to the families of imprisoned or injured Palestinian terrorists. An additional sum of over $100 was raised in a Saudi TV telethon this spring to support the armed Palestinian intifada.

*****

7. US JEWISH GROUP OFFERS ISRAEL BOMB-SNIFFER DOGS

A group of American Jews has offered to train and provide Israel with additional sniffer dogs to help detect Palestinian suicide bombers and stop them before they can kill, Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau said Thursday.

The California group, which calls the project "Pups for Peace," has offered to buy the dogs, and to set up a school in the Golan Heights to train them and their Israeli handlers, according to Landau. Israeli security forces always employ such dogs, but the group hopes to put another 200 dogs in service by next year, and up to 1,000 in future.

The dogs would be trained to smell explosives at a distance and attack the bomber, pinning him to the ground before he could get into a crowd of civilians, Landau said. Israeli police cannot legally accept donations from the public, but he said a way is being sought around that prohibition.

*****

8. BURG CHIDES BUSH FOR TRYING TO OUST ARAFAT

Israeli Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg has labeled as "childish" the effort by US President George W. Bush to remove Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat from power.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week, Burg quipped, "A country that has not succeeded in 40 years in removing Fidel Castro when he is 90 km. from Miami suddenly removes presidents around the world? Where is your sense? This is political infantility," Burg added.

Burg described Bush's attempt to remove Arafat as "US colonialism from Texas," which has only "unite[d] the Palestinians, exactly the opposite of where he wanted to be. This is childishness," Burg said.

Once considered a potential prime ministerial candidate, Burg's political aspirations have taken a beating lately, after attempting this winter to address the Palestinian legislature in Ramallah while terrorism was still ravishing Israeli cities. He also lost the Labor party chairmanship race to Binyamin Ben-Eliezer this past year. In recent months, he has been trying without success to get Labor to leave the Sharon government.

*****

9. KNESSET VOTES DOWN OSLO INQUIRY

The Israeli Knesset on Thursday rejected a proposal by right-wing MK Avigdor Lieberman of the National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu alignment to set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the Oslo Accords.

This is the second time in a month the Knesset has rejected such a proposal, and Lieberman vowed yesterday to bring it up "again and again" until the parliament approves a probe of the "mistakes" of the Oslo process and the resulting intifada deaths.

When an Oslo probe was threatened last month, leftist MKs countered that they would push for a commission of inquiry on unauthorized settlement expansion, which could implicate current prime minister Ariel Sharon.

The Sharon government yesterday opposed the Oslo inquiry, saying it sets a bad precedent of politicians investigating politicians.

Many Israelis contend certain Israeli leaders on the left should be investigated and held responsible for bringing the "disaster" of Oslo on the nation.

*****

SOURCES: JERUSALEM POST, HA'ARETZ, IMRA, ARUTZ-7, REUTERS, CNN, ASSOCIATED PRESS, FOX NEWS, IDF SPOKESMAN, INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, JERUSALEM TIMES, MENL.

This bulletin was compiled and written by David Parsons.

*****

ICEJ NEWS SERVICE
Editor: David Parsons

ICEJ NEWS SERVICE provides news and comment on Middle East affairs, compiled by journalists at the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, publishers of the monthly Middle East Digest. Please feel free to publish/broadcast, with attribution.

- Copyright © 2001-2005 Moïse Rahmani -
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