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Blast Near Tunisian Synagogue Kills at Least 6

By VOA News


The explosion of a fuel truck near a synagogue in Tunisia has killed at least sixpeople, including tourists, and injured about 20 others. The truck, carrying cooking gas, jumped the pavement on the island of Djerba and hit a perimeter wall of the Ghriba synagogue - one of the oldest in Africa and a shrine that draws Jewish pilgrims from around the world. Tunisian officials and local Jewish leaders said the explosion was an accident. Israeli government officials described it as a deliberate anti-Semitic attack, but did not give evidence for that assertion.


Powell Plans to 'Move Aggressively' on Ending Mideast Violence

By VOA News

Secretary of State Colin Powell has arrived in Jerusalem in an effort to mediate a ceasefire to end more than 18 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Powell will hold consultations Friday with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The secretary has set aside nearly three hours for his talks with Sharon. He is scheduled to meet later with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer.

Powell is expected to meet Saturday with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Sharon has said that such a meeting would be a "tragic mistake."

Before leaving Jordan Thursday, Powell said he planned to "move aggressively" towards ending violence and restoring political action between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Powell said he and King Abdullah stressed the need for humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians. He said both Jordan and the United States are ready to meet this need. At a news conference, Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher expressed confidence in Powell's peace mission, stating that Jordan wants to work with the United States and Egypt to create a "credible alternative" to the violence in the Middle East.

Earlier Thursday, King Abdullah and Queen Rania carried boxes of food and medicine and chatted with aid workers at a military airport in Amman while waiting for Israel's approval to fly the supplies to the besieged West Bank. On Wednesday King Abdullah told a meeting of U.N. officials and relief workers that Jordan had set up an "air bridge" to ferry humanitarian supplies to the Palestinians.


Sharon: Army to Stay Until Terrorists Surrender

By VOA News

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his troops would remain in Palestinian towns until "the terrorists surrender."

He was speaking hours before the arrival of Secretary of State Colin Powell. The United States has been pressing Israel to withdraw from all Palestinian cities and towns occupied in Israel's offensive over the past two weeks.

Israel invaded Palestinian cities in the West Bank March 29, following a series of Palestinian suicide bombings that killed dozens of Israelis. Hundreds of Palestinians have died during the offensive. Sharon said the offensive would continue, despite pressure from the United States to end the operation.

Israeli government spokesman Daniel Seaman said the Jewish state would continue its mission to capture militants and weapons until it has been successfully completed. "We agree with the United States in principal," he said. "We have said from the beginning we have no intention of remaining in these areas and already from locations that we have concluded military operations we have withdrawn from over the past 48 hours. But there are other places, and we said it quite clearly from the beginning, until the military operation concludes we are staying there."

The Israeli army announced Thursday that it has withdrawn from 24 Palestinian towns. But Israeli tanks and troops have pushed into two other West Bank towns, Bir Zeit and Dahariyah, and the Ein Beit Hilmeh refugee camp. Troops made a number of arrests in Bir Zeit. Palestinian officials called the Israeli pull-out announcement "a big lie" meant to deceive world opinion.

The Israeli army also said it has arrested more than 4,000 people during its campaign to root out Palestinian militants, and that more than 100 of those arrested are on Israel's list of most wanted suspects.

Israeli tanks and troops remain in the key Palestinian cities of Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin and Bethlehem and on the outskirts of two more.

In the Jenin refugee camp, a last pocket of 36 Palestinian fighters surrendered to Israeli forces Thursday, apparently after running out of food, water and ammunition. About 300 fighters surrendered late Wednesday. Palestinian officials are calling for help to relocate hundreds of families left homeless by the Israeli attack on the refugee camp.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said Israeli achieved its goals in the Jenin camp. She said most of the men Israel wanted have either surrendered, been captured, or were killed.

At least 23 Israeli soldiers and more than 100 Palestinians were killed in several days of fierce fighting in the refugee camp. Israeli forces are continuing house to house searches there. Troops shot one camp resident Thursday.


Europe, Vatican Demand End of Siege on Church of Nativity

By VOA News


A top European official, the Vatican and the Franciscan religious order have appealed to Israel to end the siege of one of Christianity's holiest sites - the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Israeli forces surround the church compound, intent on capturing the 200 Palestinians, including armed men, who took refuge there nine days ago. About 40 friars and nuns also remain in the compound.

European Commission President Romano Prodi called on the Israeli government to respect international humanitarian law and allow aid into the church. In Brussels, he said he received a desperate telephone call from monks pleading for international help.

Franciscan Father David Jaegar said the church complex is now without food, water or electricity. Prodi said the Israeli forces have denied the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and all other humanitarian agencies access to the church to bring emergency aid.

Israeli forces have an observation balloon with surveillance cameras stationed above the complex, keeping watch. Snipers are perched on nearby rooftops.

The Vatican has made strong appeals to the Israelis and Palestinians to respect holy sites. Israeli President Moshe Katsav replied in a letter saying Israel will continue the siege until the gunmen surrender. The church was built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.

Earlier, Thursday, an Armenian Orthodox monk was shot and seriously wounded at the Bethlehem compound. Each side blamed the other for the shooting. Palestinians said Israeli soldiers shot the monk after breaking open a door. The Israeli army said Palestinians fired as soldiers were transferring food and medicine to clerics in the compound.



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