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Increased Fines for Parking on the Sidewalk


Being inconsiderate and blocking pedestrians will be more expensive from now on in Israel. Officials have approved a significant increase in fines for parking on a sidewalk, a practice that is not uncommon in certain areas of the country. Parking on a sidewalk will now carry a fine of NIS 500 instead of NIS 250. Parking with only one set of wheels on the sidewalk will carry a NIS 250 fine instead of NIS 100.

Israeli Court Convicts Palestinian Intifada Leader Barghouti

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem) &

An Israeli Court has convicted a leader of the Palestinian uprising for orchestrating the killing of five people. The court said that in some cases it was at the direction of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. Prosecutors are asking the court to sentence the leader, Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti, to five consecutive life terms.

The Tel Aviv District Court found Barghouti guilty of three attacks in which five Israelis were murdered, in some cases under the guidance of Arafat. The three judges on the panel said in their verdict that Arafat would never give explicit instructions for attacks, but he let it be known when the timing was right.

Barghouti was also convicted of attempted murder and belonging to a terror organization. The court acquitted him of involvement in 33 other attacks, saying there was no evidence to prove he was a full partner to those acts of violence. The 43-year-old Barghouti remained defiant as three policemen led him into the courtroom. Raising his shackled hands, he shouted in Arabic, "This court is completely illegal!" He was arrested in 2002 and charged with leading dozens of terror operations against Israelis as the leader of Arafat's Fatah faction in the West Bank.

Israeli prosecutors charged him with funding and planning terror attacks by the armed wings of Fatah and said he was not simply a political activist as he claimed to be. Barghouti was a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and some observers saw him as a potential successor to Arafat. He is popular, especially among the younger members of Fatah, an organization listed by the State Department as a terrorist group.

Arab members of the Israeli parliament, who viewed the proceedings, told reporters Barghouti was too important a political figure to be held for long, and predicted he would be released as part of future political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The court is to sentence him on June 6.

The terror leader was found to have personally authorized and organized the Sea Food Market attack by two terrorists in Tel Aviv in which three Jews were killed in March 2002; the murder of Yoela Chen at a Givat Ze'ev gas station in January 2002; and the attack in which a Greek Orthodox monk was murdered on the highway to Maaleh Adumim in June 2001. Barghouti was also convicted of organizing a car bomb in southern Jerusalem, in which no one was hurt.

The convicted murderer has said that he does not recognize the right of the Israeli court to try him, as he is the head of a political organization. Fatah terrorists released statements today pledging to abduct IDF soldiers as hostages for Barghouti's release.

Arrested in April 2002, Barghouti was responsible for building up the Fatah movement's terrorist activities over the past several years, leading to many Israeli deaths. A member of the PA legislature, Barghouti founded the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which was later outlawed by the U.S. in the course of being responsible for killing scores of Israelis.

Israel Ignores International Outcry, Continues Military Operations in Gaza

By Sonja Pace (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli troops are continuing their controversial military operation in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, despite both international condemnation and domestic criticism. The Gaza operation has prompted calls by some Israelis for an early withdrawal from Gaza and a resumption of peace talks.

Over the past week images of Israeli bulldozers demolishing Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp flashed on Israeli television sets, and around the world. The images resulted in widespread international criticism, even from Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said the United States opposed the demolitions.

But there were more images to come on Wednesday, showing Palestinian demonstrators in Rafah scattering amid Israeli shelling, and Palestinians running through the streets carrying the wounded, including children, and rushing them into ambulances. At least eight Palestinians were killed and Israel later apologized for the civilian deaths.

But, Israeli officials remain adamant about the overall necessity of the Gaza operation, as Foreign Ministry spokesman Gideon Meir explained on Israeli television. "What we are witnessing is terrorist organizations who are using the civilian population and their houses in order to produce explosives, and to use their houses for snipers, and to use their houses at the end of the tunnels where they're smuggling the weapons into the Gaza Strip."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has put forward a plan to unilaterally withdraw all Jewish settlements and the soldiers that protect them from the Gaza Strip. But Israel says the Palestinian Authority has allowed Gaza to become a haven for terrorists, and its current offensive appears aimed at ending that - a move that could be a precursor to a withdrawal.

Justice Minister Josef Lapid describes the Rafah operation as the razor's edge. He told Israeli radio the political plan to vacate Gaza is justified and that the war against terror is also justified. But, he added, what is not justified is firing by mistake into a demonstrating crowd and killing civilians like happened on Wednesday. Lapid has been a staunch supporter of Sharon's plan to get out of Gaza.

Incidents last week seem to have increased public support for the plan, too, as well as providing Israel with a justification for its offensive. Clashes between the military and Palestinian militants in Gaza last week resulted in the deaths of 13 Israeli soldiers. Those clashes prompted a huge pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv last Saturday, in which more than 100,000 people gathered in support of Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan. Many demonstrators also called for the immediate resumption of peace negotiations.

Justice Minister Lapid supports that idea. Lapid said that fundamentally what is needed is to advance the peace process with the Palestinians. To do that, he advocates vacating all the Israeli settlements in Gaza and then resuming negotiations with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. The Israeli Justice Minister says such talks should take place even if there is still violence.

Public opinion polls in Israel show that the vast majority of the Israeli people support a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. But Sharon's own Likud party voted down the plan a few weeks ago. A revised plan is now set to be put up for debate in the Cabinet later this month.

The concept of an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza has also won the support of the Bush administration, which sees it as a possible step in restarting the stalled peace process. But the Israeli military operation in Gaza has resulted in criticism from the United States and a rare U.S. abstention in the Security Council Wednesday, which enabled passage of a resolution rebuking Israel for its actions in Gaza.

Aliyah Benefits for Israelis


In a bid to encourage the ingathering of the exiles - including Israeli Jews who have chosen to leave Israel and reside abroad - the Knesset Finance Committee has approved changes in tax benefits for new olim (immigrants to Israel), and expanded them to include returning Israelis.

The committee decision stipulates that Israelis who have spent at least six years abroad will benefit from extensive tax exemptions. However, returning Israelis would not benefit from tax benefits for cars (which new olim do). At the same time, Israelis returning home after a two- to six-year "trip" abroad will see their current tax exemption on imported electrical appliances eliminated. The new regulations will come into effect on January 1, 2005.

The proposal to extend benefits to returning Israelis was put forth by Boaz Sofer, the deputy director of planning and economics for the department of customs and VAT of the Finance Ministry. The proposal suggested that Israelis returning after six or more years abroad be granted the same rights as new immigrants with regard to importing household items and business equipment.

The new benefits include a tax exemption on items such as video cameras, DVD players, and large-screen televisions, as well as laundry dryers, carpets, work tools worth up to $1,600 and business equipment worth up to $36,000. The new regulations come in tandem with efforts by Foreign Ministry and Jewish Agency officials to encourage Israelis abroad to return home through job placement and assistance with transferring businesses to Israel.

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