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Sharon to Visit India in September

By VOA News

Indian officials confirmed that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would make an official visit to New Delhi Sept. 9. Sharon's three-day visit will be the first ever by an Israeli prime minister to India. News reports from New Delhi say Sharon and Indian leaders intend to discuss their countries' growing commercial and military ties. India is in the process of acquiring the Phalcon early-warning radar system from Israel, and defense experts said India has bought weapons from Israel as well. Indian newspapers quote officials as saying India wants to maintain relations on both sides of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Sharon Approves Israeli Strikes

By VOA News and Israel Faxx News Services

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave approval Wednesday for wide-ranging strikes against Palestinian militants in response to the suicide bombing that killed at least 20 people Tuesday evening in Jerusalem, security sources said. More than 110 were wounded in the attack, 40 of them children.

The United States stepped up its pressure on Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to clamp down on the militants and signaled that it would not oppose Israeli retaliation.

A senior Israeli source told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the raids could begin soon and last several days. The source said Israeli army reprisals were likely to go ahead despite signs that Abbas was ready to ratchet up the pressure on powerful militant groups he has been hitherto reluctant to confront under the U.S.-led peace plan.

But Israel's military response was not expected to be as dramatic as last summer's crushing ground offensive, which followed a wave of suicide bombings and led to the reoccupation of much of the West Bank.

The Israeli security source said the attack plan, which was expected to get final approval Wednesday night from Sharon's Cabinet, would target the main militant groups with arrests, raids and "targeted killings." He said the strikes would hit Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, groups that declared a three-month ceasefire June 29 under pressure from the reformist Abbas.

"Israel will take action as retaliation against the terror organizations," the source said. "We cannot trust the Palestinian Authority to do the job."

President Bush telephoned Sharon from Texas, while Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, telephoned Israeli and Palestinian officials. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush remained committed to achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But he also said little to discourage Israel from retaliating for the bombing. "Israel has a right to defend itself," McClellan told reporters. "This was a vicious attack on innocent civilians."

In the wake of the latest suicide bombing, Israel has also frozen contacts with all officials in the Palestinian Authority and suspended plans for the handover of four West Bank towns to Palestinian security control. Israel has also imposed a general closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli officials also ruled out, for now, sending Palestinian Chairman Yasir Arafat into exile and taking over his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Israeli government blames Arafat for orchestrating much of the violence during the past three years and has cut off all direct contacts with the Palestinian leader.

In Hebron, IDF forces barred the gates of the city's large "Arches" Mosque, where the suicide bomber who struck in Jerusalem served as imam. In addition, 17 Hebron Arabs, including family members of the terrorist, were arrested in connection with the attack.

A White House spokesman said the president strongly condemned the "vicious" bus bombing, and said the two leaders agreed that the latest attack only reinforced the urgency of cracking down on terrorists and the terrorist infrastructure.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, meanwhile, was on the phone with Abbas, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher and others, including European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana, one of the authors of the "road map."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration was intent on rallying support for the peace plan while at the same time isolating those seeking to scuttle the "road map" through violence.

"Despite these brutal attacks, the United States remains committed, the president remains committed... to his vision of two states living side-by-side in peace. We think it's essential to have the support of the international community towards that goal, and that international and regional leaders all do their part to insure that no assistance, no support, gets to terrorist groups and groups engaged in violence and terror."

Holy Site in Jerusalem's Old City Re-Opened to Non-Muslims

By VOA News

A Jerusalem holy site, which was closed to non-Muslims for most of past three years, has reopened Wednesday. Jerusalem's police chief, Mickey Levy, said scores of non-Muslim tourists and Israelis visited the site in Jerusalem's Old City.

Israeli radio reported the visits had been organized with the approval of the Waqf,the Islamic authority that oversees the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine currently occupying the site. Muslims call it Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary); it is the third holiest site in Islam. Jews call the site the Temple Mount and believe it is the location of the destroyed Jewish temples of the Biblical era.

Earlier this month, Israeli police prevented right-wing members of parliament and ultra nationalist Jews from visiting the disputed holy site. The current Palestinian uprising (Intifada) was sparked by a visit to the site in September 2000 by Ariel Sharon, who was then an Israeli opposition leader and is now prime minister.

Riot In Megiddo Prison


Hundreds of Arab prisoners rioted Wednesday in Megiddo Prison, with security prisoners setting tents ablaze and throwing rocks at guards and at firefighters sent to quell the flames. Due to the inability of firefighters to safely approach, a large fire has been burning out of control in the prison since late afternoon. Prisoners also threw rocks at vehicles passing through a nearby intersection, leading to the temporary closure of the road.

Military and civilian police were sent to the prison in large numbers and attempted to use tear gas and water cannons against the rioting inmates. But the prisoners were apparently prepared for such an eventuality and used homemade hot water and onion remedies to neutralize the effects of the gas and rocks to fashion barricades against the water cannons.

The ongoing violence was apparently sparked by a decision to transfer some of the inmates to another facility, Ketziot, in the Negev. In a related item, prison guards discovered six cellular phones among the belongings of security prisoners in the Shatta Prison in the north. The prisoners also illegally held "hands-free" attachments and homemade antennas.

Despondent Mom Creates Eilat Power Outage


A despondent Eilat mother whose children were taken away by welfare authorities, climbed a high-tension electric tower in the southern resort town earlier in the week. The young lady eventually consented to come down and was rescued unharmed. During the negotiations, which lasted for hours, the electric company turned off the power to the tower, leaving many area residents in the dark and without air conditioning despite the 109.4F temperatures.

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