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Israeli Foreign Ministry Launches Arabic Web Site


Israel's Foreign Ministry has launched an Arabic language Web site to encourage dialogue among Israelis and Arabs. The website, 'Altawasul,' which means interconnection in Arabic, is being launched as part of the Ministry's efforts to increasingly expose different audiences in the Arab world to information about Israel, supplementing the sparseness of material espousing Israel's point of view in Arabic and addressing Israel's Arab neighbors in their own language.

Israel May Further Restrict Access of Palestinian Workers

By VOA News &

Israel may further restrict the number of Palestinian workers allowed into the Jewish state, after a woman suicide bomber blew herself up at a Gaza crossing point, killing four Israelis and wounding 12 other Israelis.

The Wednesday morning attack at the Erez crossing in northern Gaza could affect thousands of Palestinians who have to work in Israel, but few Palestinians were reported to have been in the building at the time of the explosion.

Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner said the attack has dealt a blow, not just to Israelis but to ordinary Palestinians as well. "As a gesture of goodwill, Israel allows Palestinian workers to come into Israel and the Palestinian terrorist organizations took this opportunity to kill as many people as possible." The explosion ripped through a recently opened facility where thousands of laborers and foreigners cross over between Gaza and Israel.

Speaking to reporters at the site, the commander of the Israeli Army in the Gaza Strip, Brig.-Gen. Gadi Shamni, warned the attack could have consequences for Palestinian workers. "We are doing our best in order to facilitate the Palestinians' life in the Gaza Strip, to enable them to work in Israel, in the industrial areas surrounding the Gaza Strip," said Shamni. "And an incident like this will not help us to be more co-operative with the Palestinians."

Hamas, a U.S.-government-listed terrorist group, and an armed wing of Palestinian President Yasir Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed joint responsibility for the bombing.

Rim Salah a-Rishi, 21, the mother of a 3-year-old girl and an 18-month-old toddler was responsible for the suicide bombing attack. She became the first female suicide bomber of Hamas. In the past, the PFLP, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah used females. Wednesday's suicide bombing attack was the seventh carried out by a female.

The spiritual leader and founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, warned that there would more attacks until Israel withdraw from what he called the Palestinian homeland. The Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, who has been attempting to persuade Hamas and other armed groups to agree to a cease-fire, refused to condemn the bombing. He said Israeli military operations and restrictions on the Palestinians are leading to what he called an escalation of violence on both sides.

Annan: Israeli Policies No Reason for Anti-Semitism

By Jenny Falcon (VOA-United Nations)

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that Israeli policies in the Middle East could never justify anti-Semitism. The Secretary General also criticized bigotry against Islam. Annan made his remarks at a time when physical and verbal anti-Semitic attacks against Jews appear to be on the rise. In the Secretary General's words, recent attacks against Jews and Jewish symbols in Europe, Turkey and elsewhere, show that anti-Semitism is not "the stuff of history."

Annan warned against Holocaust denial and said that no one should be allowed to use criticism of Israel's actions in the Middle East as a mask for anti-Semitism. "In some cases, anti-Semitism appears to be a byproduct of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, particularly with the escalation of hostilities in the past several years. Criticism of Israeli policies is one thing. But it is quite another when such critiques take the form of attacks, physical or verbal, on Jewish individuals and the symbols of their heritage and faith."

The U.N. leader also urged supporters of Israel not to use the charge of anti-Semitism to stifle legitimate discussion. In a message calling for an end to bigotry, Annan also criticized intolerance, harassment and ignorance of Muslims. While the Crusades and colonialism are examples of centuries old aggression against Islam, Annan said discrimination and suspicion of Muslims that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States are recent manifestations of the problem. "One of the most disturbing manifestations of bigotry today is Islamophobia. Islamophobia is a new word for an old phenomenon."

Mel Gibson Film 'Passion' to Debut on 2,000 Screens

By Reuters

Mel Gibson's controversial new film, "The Passion of Christ," which at first had a hard time finding a distributor, will be independently released on about 2,000 screens in the United States on Feb. 25, a Gibson spokesman said on Wednesday. A release on 2,000 screens is similar to what a major studio release would receive.

The movie, whose dialogue is in Latin and Aramaic, covers the final 12 hours in the life of Jesus and has come under fire from some Jewish groups who claim its story could foment anti-Semitism by tying Christ's death to Jewish authorities. But Catholic and Protestant groups, as well as biblical scholars, have defended the film, saying it sticks closely to accounts of the crucifixion as told in the New Testament.

Pope John Paul saw the movie in December and told his longtime Polish secretary Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, "It is as it was," meaning he considered it an authentic portrayal of Gospel accounts, a Vatican source told Reuters.

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