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Israelis are Smoking Less

24 percent of Israelis smoked in 2002 as compared to 29 percent in 1998. There is also a reported drop in the number of heavy smokers. In 1998, 25 percent of smokers reported they smoke over a pack a day (20 cigarettes) but in 2002, only 19 percent exceeded a pack a day.

Sharon Pledges to Seek Approval Before Separating Israel from Palestinians

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged Monday to seek U.S. and Israeli parliamentary approval before taking any unilateral steps to separate Israel from the Palestinians. Sharon also promised to introduce such a plan only if he decides the Palestinians are not willing to implement the international road map for peace plan. He addressed the parliament Monday during a debate over his threat to unilaterally cut Israel off from the Palestinians.

But if his critics expected a showdown, they were to be disappointed. Sharon said it was too early to write off the road map, which calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005. He added that, if it becomes clear within the next few months that the Palestinians are not living up to their obligations under the plan, he would take unilateral steps. He pledged to bring the plan before the Knesset - the Israeli parliament - for a comprehensive debate and approval.

The prime minister said at this stage he would not disclose what those steps might be, as the government is still in the process of drawing up a contingency plan in case peace talks break down. Sharon said he would hold extensive discussions on the issue with what he called "Israel's world partners, led by the United States." During his speech, he avoided any mention of his threat to dismantle some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

His address came one day after more than 100,000 Israelis, including members of his own government, held a demonstration in Tel Aviv against any proposed evacuation of settlements. Sharon told a gathering of foreign journalists in Jerusalem on Sunday that his government and not demonstrators would decide policy.

Palestinian Officials Reject U.S. Demand to Repudiate Terror

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

Palestinian officials and non-government organizations have rejected a U.S. demand that they repudiate terrorism in order to receive financial aid. Palestinians are refusing to sign the U.S. Agency for International Development's "certification regarding terrorist financing."

The requirement, first introduced last year, is aimed at preventing U.S. funds from being transferred to entities engaged in terrorist acts. Several Palestinian groups are on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

The Palestinian finance minister, Salam Fayyad, said that the Palestinian Authority opposes all forms of terrorism. But, he said, the Palestinian Authority objects to the USAID's new terms as a pre-condition for receiving aid. Palestinian non-government organizations have adopted the same stand.

Palestinian officials said that USAID donated about $30 million to Palestinian NGOs last year to promote democracy and for welfare services. The Palestinian officials said they intend to raise the issue again with U.S. officials at a meeting scheduled later this week in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Assad Rejects Katzav's Invitation to Visit Israel


In a quick and public exchange of messages, President Moshe Katzav invited Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad to Israel - and Assad rejected the invitation.

Katzav told Israel Radio Monday, "I invite the president of Syria to come to Jerusalem and meet with the heads of the state and hold serious negotiations." On Sunday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he was ready for peace talks with Syria, but only if Damascus stopped funding and supporting terrorist groups.

Within hours of the radio interview, Syrian spokesmen rejected the invitation out of hand. Assad has recently reiterated his interest in resuming negotiations with Israel, although only based on a prior Israeli concession of the Golan Heights. The Israeli position is that negotiations must begin with no preconditions.

Nadia Cohen, widow of Israeli spy Eli Cohen, expressed satisfaction with Katzav's invitation to Assad when he is ready for "serious" talks. Eli Cohen infiltrated the upper echelons of Syria's government but was eventually discovered and executed publicly. His body has not yet been returned to Israel.

Channel 2 TV News reported that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was willing to sit and talk with the Syrians but that the Syrians must take steps to end hostilities. The prime minister called upon Damascus to stop assisting terror organizations, to dismantle Hizbullah, and to eliminate rockets situated in southern Lebanon, pointed at northern Israel.

Even if Syria complies with the list of demands, the prime minister stated he was unwilling to consider withdrawing from the Golan Heights to the pre-June 1967 boundary. Sharon made his position clear, expressing an unwillingness to withdraw to the pre-'67 border even in exchange for total peace with Syria.

Palestinian Editor: Zionists Behind anti-Semitic Attacks

By Palestinian Media Watch

PMW reported this week that a prominent Palestinian Authority newspaper editor has accused Israelis and other Zionists of carrying out terror attacks against Jewish targets in the Diaspora, in order to encourage Jewish immigration to Israel.

The editor of the PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, in an interview on official PA television, issued the bizarre accusation. The editor explained that since Israel suffers from low immigration, it was Israel who started last month's fire in a Parisian synagogue - in order to convince French Jews to leave France for Israel.

The editor, Hafez Barghouti, told the PA TV audience: "The secret Zionist gangs have been trying, and are acting in France in the same way they used to act in Arab countries- Iraq, Egypt and Morocco - blowing up... Jewish synagogues in order to force them [the Jews] to immigrate [to Israel].

"So after the attack on a synagogue, the Israeli ambassador in France called for all the Jews in France to immigrate [to Israel].... There are Israeli or Zionist gangs that carry out terror attacks against Jews and force them to immigrate [to Israel], because Israel suffers from emigration."

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