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Dozens of Reservists Fired from Their Jobs


Dozens of army reservists who were called for duty to take part in Operation Defensive Shield, the war against PA terror, report having been fired from their jobs. Such an act is illegal. An employee may not dismiss a reservist called for annual reserve duty of an emergency situation as the one that currently exists. No official statements have been made indicating if the government plans to deal with the alarming incidents in a special fashion or if each reservist will have to file with the appropriate government agencies.

Sharon: First Stage of West Bank Offensive Over

By VOA News & Agence France-Presse

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the first stage of his country's West Bank offensive is over as Israeli forces withdraw from more key Palestinian cities. But Sharon reiterated that Operation Defensive Shield would continue using what he called a different method." He did not elaborate.

The Israeli leader said the first stage of the offensive had achieved profound results in the struggle against terrorism. Israel said its forces are completing their pullout from Nablus and Ramallah but will keep a tight military cordon around the cities to prevent Palestinians from attacking Israelis.

Israeli forces will also continue surrounding Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat's headquarters in central Ramallah and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. A standoff continues between Israeli troops and several hundred Palestinians who have taken refuge in the church. Five Palestinian youths emerged from the church and surrendered to Israeli forces Sunday.

Palestinian officials dismissed Israel's withdrawal as a media gimmick, stating that Israeli forces are still in control of Palestinian areas. Meanwhile, heavy exchanges of gunfire were reported Sunday at the Qalandiyah refugee camp in Ramallah, during a raid by Israeli forces searching for what the army called Palestinian terrorists

A suspected head of a militant group which has carried out suicide bombings was among 15 people arrested by Israeli troops in the camp, Palestinian witnesses said. Nasser Hmeid, who was arrested in Kalandia camp, is suspected of heading Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank's Ramallah region and of having organized several anti-Israeli attacks, according to Palestinian sources. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is a radical offshoot of Arafat's Fatah group.

Hmeid, a 34-year-old member of the Palestinian security forces, was arrested in a home of the Kalandia camp along with eight others, witnesses said. Israeli soldiers entered the camp, located between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and made 15 arrests in house-to-house searches, without any casualties reported, they said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said on U.S. television Sunday that he was pleased that the withdrawal from West Bank cities was moving forward, but that he still regarded the situation in the region as serious. "I am pleased that this withdrawal now seems to be well underway and reaching the point Prime Minister Sharon said to me it would reach by the end of this week."

Powell suggested that Israel might want to ease its restrictions on Arafat. "I think sooner or later he has to be given access to the means of control, the means of communicating with others. And so I think we will have to work through that problem." Powell said he has no immediate plans to return to the region, but added he expects to go back in the not too distant future.

Carter Urges Economic Pressure on Israel

By VOA News

Former President Jimmy Carter said the United States should leverage economic and military aid to Israel to persuade the Jewish state to withdraw from Palestinian lands in exchange for Middle East peace.

Writing Sunday in The New York Times, Carter - who brokered the 1979 peace deal between Israel and Egypt - said Washington provides nearly $10 million daily in aid to Israel. In calling for economic pressure on the Jewish state, he said normal diplomatic efforts to end Middle East violence have failed.

He called Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a strong and forceful man, adding that he believes Sharon's ultimate goals are to establish Israeli settlements as widely as possible throughout the occupied territories and to deny Palestinians what he called a cohesive political existence.

He said there is adequate blame on the Palestinian side as well. He said Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat has never exerted control over the radical Hamas movement or other Palestinian groups who reject the concept of a peaceful Israeli existence. He called Arafat's infrequent denunciations of violence spasmodic and probably insincere.

Pope Issues New Appeal for Mideast Peace

By VOA News

At the Vatican, Pope John Paul II has issued a new appeal for peace in the Middle East. Addressing a crowd of thousands in St. Peter's Square, the Pope focused his appeal on the continuing stand-off at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which has been under siege by Israeli troops for nearly three weeks.

The Israeli army ringed the church on April 3 after a group of about 200 Palestinians, some of them armed, took refuge in the church, along with foreign and local priests and nuns.

Pope John Paul said the church, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, has become the site of "clashes, blackmail and intolerable exchanges of accusations," and he urged Israel and the Palestinians to do everything possible to keep the Holy Land from being caught up in the "spiral of hatred and violence."

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