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Beheaded U.S. Jew was Coming Closer to Judaism


Friends of Nicholas Berg, the American who was beheaded by Islamic terrorists in Iraq, say that during the past year he had increased his devotion to religious Jewish observance and study. So reports the New York weekly, The Forward.

Iraqi Muslims captured Berg, 26, in early April as he was preparing to return to the U.S. Aaron Spool, a good friend, said, "He was good man, a good Jew. It's tough." Spool said that during the past year, Nick had started becoming more ritually observant, including wearing tzitzit (ritual fringes), and had begun intensively studying Bible.

Six Israelis, Four Palestinians Dead as Gaza Fighting Continues

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli helicopters have fired missiles into a neighborhood of Gaza City, killing at least four Palestinians and wounding more than a dozen others. There were fierce clashes in the neighborhood as Israeli troops tried to recover the remains of six soldiers killed Tuesday when a 220-pound roadside bomb blew up their armored personnel carrier.

The latest missile struck near a mosque in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City. The Israeli military said it targeted a group of militants planting explosives, but Palestinian witnesses said the casualties included women and children. Just hours earlier a missile fired from a helicopter hit a building in the same neighborhood.

Fierce fighting erupted in Zeitoun for the second day in a row as Israeli forces conducted house-to-house searches hoping to recover the remains of six soldiers killed there Tuesday. Militants said they took the body parts, and Israel said its troops would stay in the area until the bodies were recovered. The initial operation began in the pre-dawn hours Tuesday when Israeli troops, backed by tanks and military helicopters moved into Zeitoun in search of weapons factories. As they began to pull out, hours later, one of their armored personnel carriers was hit by a roadside bomb and exploded. Palestinian militants were seen in video images, proudly displaying body parts of the dead soldiers after the attack.

The militant groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades all claimed responsibility for blowing up the soldiers' vehicle. Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinian gunmen throughout much of the day Tuesday. At least eight Palestinians were reported killed and another 120 injured.

Later Tuesday, the Israeli government said it would not negotiate for the return of the soldiers' bodies, but vowed harsh reprisals. The International Committee of the Red Cross has agreed to try to mediate, and Palestinian leaders have also called for the release of the soldiers' remains. Egyptian officials are also reported to be negotiating with militants for the return of the bodies.

Palestinian militants said an Israeli military vehicle was bombed in the southern Gaza Strip, and Arab media reports said six Israelis died. Israel has not released details of Wednesday's bombing, but Israeli radio said there were casualties.

IDF soldiers operating in Zeitoun found some remains of the six soldiers killed Tuesday in the neighborhood in an enemy bombing. Some of the remains were found in the homes of Arabs in the Gazan neighborhood. As reported, Arabs at the scene snatched and gleefully displayed parts of the killed soldiers' bodies. "We will find all those who desecrated the honor of our soldiers," said Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz. Our accounting with them will be bitter and accurate."

IDF Southern Region Commander Gen. Dan Har'el said Tuesday night, "Our mission is clear: to bring the fighters to Jewish burial... The forces are combing from house to house, climbing on every roof and every porch, to find the remains of our soldiers."

The mother of IDF soldier Sergeant Yaakov Marvitza, 25, one of six soldiers killed in the Tuesday morning bomb attack has requested her son be flown to Yugoslavia for burial in his place of birth. Yaakov was serving as a "lone soldier," having immigrated to Israel without his parents or other family members.

Christian Groups Say Ties with Israel 'Worst' Ever

By Reuters

Christian organizations in the Holy Land say ties with the Israeli government are the worst ever and have accused the Jewish state of denying visas to some clergy - making them unwelcome in the place of Jesus' birth.

A group of 50 Christian leaders sent a letter to President George W. Bush asking him to help solve a "crisis" that left some institutions without sufficient staff. "Relations of the churches and these institutions with the Israeli government may be the worst they have ever been," said the letter, sent to Bush last week and signed by Protestant, Catholic and evangelical leaders. "Those of us with religious institutions in Israel and the Occupied Territories are no longer able to function normally."

Some groups said they felt Israel was singling out Christians - particularly Arabs - for increasingly harsh treatment. Others thought they were targeted for appearing too sympathetic to the Palestinians.

Israeli officials said there was no policy of discrimination against Christians despite church complaints that visas for their staff and clergy were regularly denied or delayed. Christians constitute some 50,000 of the roughly 3.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Christians said some church staff was made to wait months for visas, while others were denied. Arabs were particularly vulnerable because of Israeli security concerns. "There is a lot of delay, and it is denied to some people like those who come from Arab countries," said Father William Shomali, treasurer for the Latin Patriarchate. "I don't want to speak of persecution, but it is more like neglect ... It is not in the spirit of Jerusalem."

Shomali said some Christians perceived there was an effort by the Israeli right wing to "Judaise" Jerusalem, also holy to Christians and Muslims. But Israel blames bureaucracy, not bias, for the hold-ups. "I think we solved all the problems," an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said. "It takes time when people are coming from Arab countries because we have to send the applications to security. They are the only ones, and sometimes it takes a little time."

The Great Israel Fly-In


In what is to be the largest display of aviation solidarity with Israel in history, Israel's Association of General Aviation has announced an "Israel Fly-In" - scheduled to take place May 13-17. The Fly-In consists of a global delegation of pilots and airplanes taking part in a flyover across Israel.

Manning the dozens of light aircraft will be pilots from Greece, Germany, Belgium, and the United States. Participants will arrive and take-off from Haifa's airport. During their visit, the guests will fly their planes in Israel's skies, accompanied by Israeli aircraft. They will compete in air navigation competitions, and will take trips around the Golan Heights, the Galilee, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and the Negev.

The aviators will arrive Thursday at Haifa's airport and fly Friday morning to the Golan Heights where they will be landing at the Pik landing field to tour northern Israel. From there participants will fly along the Jordan Valley to Masada - landing at the Masada airfield where participants will be taking local children up in their planes.

The navigation competition will then take place, culminating at Sde Dov airfield after which participants will return to their countries of origin. The visit is being held with the blessing of the Israel Airports Authority, the Civil Flight Administration, the Israel Air Force, and the Israel Tourism Ministry.

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